In honour of this day, we caught up with Tanner Demers, Pizza Chef, to learn more about the finer points of the pizza-making art.
Tanner is a baker and chef who found his way to pizza-making as a kind of “common ground” between the two disciplines, and now he’s hooked. After culinary training in Montreal, QC, he moved to Guelph to get started in the pizza business before his career led him to Cowabunga in Hamilton, Ontario. “I’ll stay with pizza forever. I understand it fully. Pizza is the same as creating a dish, but you put it on dough. To a pizza maker, the dough is a canvas. It’s not about traditional tomato sauce and cheese.”
Taking stock of Hamilton’s growing ‘pizza scene’, Demers feels it’s diverse and innovative enough to warrant its own food tour. “We have everything from classic, to Detroit-style pizza with a tiki bar. Elevated pizzerias are doing completely different things and we’ve learned that there’s no ‘pizza type’ when it comes to customers. Everyone is coming through the door.” CowaBunga does about 250 American and neapolitan-style pizzas a day, selling out days in advance.
A true disciple, Demers has a palpable passion for all aspects of the craft. “Great pizza is about quality ingredients, and staff who are passionate about pizza making and who understand the science of making pizza. Every time you change something - the temperature, for example. If you change the temperature, you have to change the ingredients. You have to balance the ingredients with the cooking style. I try as hard as I can to frequent local markets or find local suppliers. All of my flour comes from K2. I just started diving into cheese making with rennet-free, natural cheeses as well as yogurt and kefir. Most people just mix a dough, stretch it right away and make the pizza. There's a lot of science behind it.”
While he’s happy in Hamilton for now, he recently purchased land near Kirkland Lake, ON within an off-grid community and plans to open his own northern mobile pizza business someday. “I have a passion for it, and I don’t ever see myself getting bored. It’s an endless dish.”
Tanner’s advice for home pizza makers is to stick to the same dough recipe every time and perfect it. “It's not about the dough recipe - most are very similar - it's about the timing - when the dough is supposed to be used. It's a process of repetitive trial and error, until you get it just right.”
Tanner’s go-to pizza is pesto Margherita, but for the more adventurous folks, we’re sharing some of our favourite, unique tastes and textures to adorn your daily pie. There are no ‘wrong’ pizzas, so why not explore a mix of new and classic Ontario cheeses paired with different ingredients destined to become part of your regular order.
The Cock-a-doodle Doo
Try a flour tortilla topped with salsa, ham, a fried egg, green onion and Ontario Cheddar and baked in the oven. That’s right, pizza for breakfast.
Top homemade or premade pizza crust with a little ranch dressing, minced garlic, sliced dill pickles, local bacon and Ontario Brie, then bake it at 450° F until golden.
Summer in Ontario
Try topping flatbread or naan with Ontario ricotta with local honey, peach slices for a fresh and delicious preview of summer flavours. Bake it at 450° F until golden, remove from oven and top with microgreens.
Make your favourite mac n’ cheese (you can even use boxed varieties), then add an extra ½ cup each of Ontario mozzarella and Cheddar cheese to your pot and stir it until it melts. Roll out pizza dough (about 12” round) and sprinkle with minced garlic or garlic powder and Italian herbs OR sriracha and bake at 450° F for about 10 minutes until crust starts to brown. Remove from oven, spread the mac n’ cheese on top, add another ½ cup or so each of mozzarella and Cheddar and return to oven to bake another 10 minutes or so until cheese is melted and turning golden. And no, we didn’t make this up…
While pizza toppings are a matter of personal preference and great debate (pineapple – yes/no?), pizza itself is a universal flavour celebration, and we encourage everyone to raise a cheesy slice today.