Influencer Interview: Flour + Water’s Co-Executive Chef and Partner Ryan Pollnow

Influencer Interview: Flour + Water’s Co-Executive Chef and Partner Ryan Pollnow
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San Francisco-based Flour + Water was named one of the best pizza places in the United States by Food&Wine, thanks in part to a traditional pizza margherita made with tomato sauce, Fior di Latte and extra virgin olive oil. Perfecting gold standard pizzas with LloydPans is just one way Flour + Water has achieved so much success. We spoke with Co-Executive Chef and Partner Ryan Pollnow for a two-part blog that took us deeper into daily life at Flour + Water Pizzeria, from culinary inspiration to our curiosity over an 800-degree wood burning oven imported from Italy.

LloydPans: Congratulations on the Food&Wine nod! The fact that they picked a traditional pizza margherita to write about really says something. 

Pollnow: I agree. Anytime I go to a neapolitan-style pizzeria for the first visit, it’s always a margherita because that’s the benchmark. You can gauge everything from a margherita. It has toppings that don’t take away from dough process; you can see structure, process, oven influence, but at the same time it does show off an approach toward toppings and balance, especially with neapolitan-style pizza. The heavier handed you are with things that go on top of that dough, it loses some structural integrity. It’s such a fast bake and a hot oven that it’s a delicate balance of amounts. Not that it’s a test for anyone, but it shows off a pizza program’s capabilities.

LloydPans: Tell us about this wood burning oven that you imported from Italy. You’re heavily influenced by Italian regions, so would you say the oven is an extension of that?

Pollnow: Absolutely. Flour + Water’s original restaurant here in the Mission District in San Francisco is influenced by every region of Italy, it doesn’t hone in and focus on one, because we want to be aware of and influenced by the cuisine history of all 20 regions of Italy. We want to take California ingredients and an approach toward sourcing from what’s here in Northern California and then adapt it almost as if we were our own region of Italy. Naples specifically has a huge influence on the pizza program. The original Flour + Water just turned 14, and over the last 10 to 12 years the majority of that restaurant has become known for pasta. It’s snowballed into what the restaurant is known for, but that doesn’t mean we don’t put a lot of effort into trying to represent that regional style of pizza to the best of our ability.

The pizza oven itself, 800 is the minimum temperature we run it at — it’s somewhere between 800 and 1,000 degrees. Imported materials were built on site and that oven brick by brick was built in the location it exists in today. It takes weeks to cure the oven, starting with a small fire and slowly building up so the materials settle. If we ever wanted to move that oven, it’s not an option. The oven is the piece of equipment that we work around, and we’ve had to learn over the years how to be efficient.

LloydPans: The new second Flour + Water location uses LloydPans the most. What is the technical difference that LloydPans make?

Pollnow: First of all, I love LloydPans. They’re so well made, and they conduct heat evenly and aggressively in a good way. For neapolitan wood burning ovens it wouldn’t make sense to have any sort of conductive pan. You’re limited to one style of pizza in that oven. With the opening of the pizzeria we have a very different style here. The pizza in the dining room is a 13-inch 600 degree deck oven style. We took some of those characteristics of the neapolitan that we enjoy, namely the blistering of the crust that is a good flavor characteristic. Doing it in a deck oven, we were going for something that is more set like a New York slice shop where you get structure on the base. It’s the kind of pizza we want to eat and enjoy on a regular basis and is designed to be deliverable with structural integrity. 

LloydPans: So the grab-and-go model changed the R&D process at the second location.

Pollnow: The window of time that you get with a neapolitan pizza is a magical thing. Knowing that Flour + Water would be designed for to-go as much as a dine-in experience, we wanted to craft something that had a length of time and the quality was maintained. The ovens we use are Pizza Master — one of the benefits is going away from fossil fuels, they are electric ovens — but they maintain heat more evenly and it’s a consistent deck and ambient temperature. When we started to think about what our slice program would be, we wanted to make sure the round 13-inch diameter pizzas weren’t affected by upping dough size. That’s where the LloydPans came in. We’re also lovers of Sicilian, Grandma, Detroit is having its moment — in the back of our minds the love for LloydPans and all things square or rectangular pizzas — we now have the perfect oven to do a really even heat and we created a dough that we’re really happy with. Our slice program doesn’t have to be a traditional slice of round pizza, so we bought three different sizes of LloydPans to start R&Ding. With the grab-and-go hustle and bustle of San Francisco, we’re going after something that you can eat on the go, a hand held quick lunch. The 12x12 is the perfect size so everyone gets a corner piece. It’s not Detroit-style, it’s not Sicilian or Grandma, it’s almost like the best of all square pizza, in our opinion. 

For a closer look at the inside of Flour + Water Pizzeria’s kitchen and the LloydPans difference, read part 2 of the blog, coming in October.

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