Critic's Notebook: Good Pie Pizzaiolo Ryan Skyles On Learning to Cook in Italy
Ryan Skyles was living in Italy when he got the call from Mike Randolph about the Good Pie (6665 Delmar Boulevard, University City, 314-899-9221). "I was working in a hostel in Rome, near the train station, when Mike called. He said he was opening the Good Pie and asked if I wanted a job. At that point, I was homesick and ready to come back. OK, actually I was out of money."
The Good Pie pizzaiolo didn't set out to Italy with the intention of learning about pizza. During his year in Rome and Tuscany his experience of classic Italian pies came from eating them, giving him enough information to discern what makes them so special. "[In Italy] it's all about simplicity," Skyles explains. "American pizza gets heavy. It's all about three kinds of meat and extra cheese. Italian pizza, our pizza -- this sounds funny -- is healthy."
So how does one go from a pizza consumer to a full-fledged pizzaiolo? "The training was intense," Skyles says. "I didn't serve a single pizza to a customer for three months. It takes a while to get comfortable. You have to learn how to maintain the fire, feed the wood. You have to be fast and efficient. You can only make three or four pizzas at a time. Luckily they only take 90 seconds to cook."
Asked about how it was working with a famous Stefano Ferrara oven, Skyles didn't hide his enthusiasm. "There are maybe only ten or fifteen in the country. They're handmade in Italy, and it's a generational thing. Father teaches son how to make them. It's pretty much the Ferrari of pizza ovens."
In addition to the oven, Skyles says that the key to the Good Pie's pizza is the dough. "We made a lot of changes when we moved from Midtown. The dough was the most major one," he explains. "We used to use dry yeast, but now we use levain [a starter]. It makes such a difference. My girlfriend is gluten-free, and she can eat it."
Skyles can talk at length about the technicalities of his pizza, but he was quick to dish on his favorite pizza. "The Margherita," he says without hesitation. "It's how to judge a place on its pizza. You can taste all of the important aspects of the pizza -- the sauce, the crust, the cheese. It's simple. I love it."