Lauren Calhoun is passionate about her pizza. Lauren has cooked pies long enough that she no longer notices the smell of pizza baking, but not long enough to lose her appetite for a good slice. Now, as the pizza chef at Moby’s in East Hampton, Lauren brings a special combination of dexterity and chef’s intuition to the oven.
CONVICTS caught up with Lauren and got the word on her pie-crafting process, the fringe surf scene in Wisconsin, and the elegant simplicity of pizza.
Hey, there. To start, can you tell us where we are right now?
Hi! I’m Lauren. We’re here at Moby’s in East Hampton.
Another basic question: have you always worn a bandana?
No! I’ve gone through many phases hats, bandanas. I look too much like Bart Simpson in a hat. I look like a little boy so…
Bart Simpson’s not a bad look. How long have you been operating a pizza oven for?
Probably five years. I was at Roberta’s for four years.
What do you think about the Hamptons? Do you like living out here?
I’ve only been here about three weeks and I haven’t really seen much to be honest.
Just the pizza oven?
Yea, primarily that.
You been in the ocean yet?
Do you surf?
Where are you from?
I grew up in Wisconsin. Not much surfing there. Actually there is some sort of like strange fringe group of people who try to surf in Lake Michigan. Actually, someone made a documentary about them.
Couldn’t sound colder, to be honest with you. Changing gears: what are the ideal qualities in a pizza chef?
Someone who plays sports, if you can find someone who played lacrosse or something where they had to do something at a distance from their body using a tool. They’re typically pretty quick. If I’d grown up playing baseball I’d be much better at doing this.
Let’s talk process a bit, from the ground up. You were chopping wood for the oven earlier. What are you looking for in a piece of firewood?
These bigger pieces burn really hot, but you don’t get a lot of flame so you need thinner pieces that no one wants to actually cut.
Can’t you get someone else to do it…
I can but it’s kind of like most things: if you want to get something done…
Do it yourself. Do you use a special type of wood?
People want you to tell them that you’re only burning oak or apple or cherry or something, but that’s just not realistic.
What about the actual cooking fire. At what temperature do you run the pizza oven?
Roughly 650. You can run an oven up to like 800 really, but in terms of time and baking I keep it around 675.
What’s the magic of 675? Why run it at that temperature?
So that you can blister the top and also cook the bottom at the same time. If your dome is too hot, you end up burning the top before you get the bottom to cook. Or vice versa.
What’s most important when it comes to pizza?
Really, the basis of it is it’s really so simple, you just have to have all of the steps correct.The dough is basically just flour, water, salt, and olive oil, and yeast. You have to have a nice dough and to be working with really good ingredients. It’s so simple that you can’t cut corners.
So tell me about the dough. What’s this recipe?
I’ll never tell. No: I use a mixture actually of pizza and pasta flour so you get more elasticity and that classic Neapolitan pillowy, chewy dough that you get with the pasta flour, but a little bit less crunchy.
Well, we promise won’t spill your pizza secrets. Thanks for sharing, Lauren.