6/29/2012 05:07:00 PM

Jon Darsky Talks Del Popolo, Pizza and Health Care

Jon Darsky of Del Popolo; photo: Eric Zepeda
Jon Darksy, the force behind the new mobile pizzeria Del Popolo, left his position as pizzaiolo at Flour +Water in 2010 with the hopes of opening his own joint. Instead he ended up rolling into town with an epic-size refurbished hearth of wheels. When he left San Francisco, there were only a handful of serious pizza purveyors. We recently caught out with Jon to get the lowdown on the challenges of building and running a mobile pizzeria, the secret to making perfect pizza and the state of the slice in San Francisco.

Zagat: How is making pizza in a mobile rig different than in a traditional kitchen? What do you have to do differently as a cook?
Jon Darsky: The main challenge is not having everything in one place. Logistics like having not having the ingredients on hand, having to park the truck, refuel, constantly get water. I also have a lot less control of the cooking process. The elements come more into play. I’m here in a metal box that gets hotter and colder depending on when I use it, which affects things like how the dough rises and mixes. There’s a real science involved and I’ve only been doing this (making pizza) for three years. I’m still learning about things like mixing and hydrating; then you put it all in a truck and it really takes things to a whole different level. I’m still figuring it out. Some days, I get a pizza that exactly how I want it; others days it ranges from really good to just good. It’s doing to take some practice. But overall, the reception has been positive.

Z: Every budding pizzaiolo is on a quest to make the perfect pizza. What do you think is your ‘secret sauce’? The crust, the cooking process, the ingredients? 
JD: It’s all of those things. Above all though, it’s the crust. I’m really proud of the naturally leavened dough that I use. I use a starter that I made three years ago. I also use my own flour. Most pizzerias in the U.S. use a pre-blended flour mixture (OO) that one company makes. The wheat is grown in the U.S. and Canada, sent to Italy to get milled, where it gets mixed with other flours, and then it’s sent back to the U.S. I’m creating my own flour mixture using domestic wheat that I mill and mix myself. It’s a lot like what Chad Robertson is doing at Tartine Bakery. Lots of bakers do this. It’s only unique to pizza making.

Z: Who else do you think is doing a good job in the Bay Area? 
JD: Mangieri (Una Pizza Napoletana), Zero Zero, Flour + Water, Little Star, Escape from New York, Extreme Pizza. I think everyone is doing an excellent job. I don’t like singling out just one place. Yes, all of us our putting a lot of effort into the product we put on the plate, but at the end of the day, it’s just f*cking pizza, not health care. It gets irritating when people take it too seriously.

Z: Owning a truck versus a restaurant has some unique challenges to it. When the dough runs out and you’re done for the day, where the heck do you park it? And do you have to insure it in special ways, like Heidi Klum’s legs? 
JD: I’m up at 5 am and end my day somewhere between 7-9PM. I park the truck in a parking lot in Bay View/Hunters Point. I just can’t park it on the street with all that glass. Yeah, in addition to a class B license, I need to carry pretty much all the insurance that a restaurant and a car needs, plus an umbrella liability on top of that.

Z: You originally left Flour + Water to open your own brick-and-mortar place but decided to open launch a pizza truck instead because you thought it would cost less. Flash forward two and half years and you famously spent about $180,000 on Del Popolo. In hindsight, would you do it again? 
JD: Definitely. Sure, I have a laundry list of things that I would do differently. I’d make it lighter. I might use different people. You know, I’m not a truck builder.

Z: Now that you’ve spent all this time and money to launch Del Popolo, what’s next? Do you see having more trucks? Have you ruled out the notion of opening your own brick-and-mortar?
JD: No, I would love to still open my own restaurant. I have no idea what the time or place will be, whether it will be in San Francisco or somewhere else. But first I need to wait and see how people respond to my food. This thing has to work first or else there’s no point in going bigger.

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