Jeffrey Amber talks Neapolitan-style pizza
Jeffrey Amber, executive chef at Jack London Square’s the Forge, is no rookie to the Bay Area culinary scene. After all, devoted followers may remember back when he was a rookie, bursting on the scene at age 28 at XYZ in the W Hotel in San Francisco. Since then, Amber, now 40, has made his mark at various ventures, and now, after a few years of consulting and helping to revamp menus for various nationwide chains, is back to working his magic in the East Bay at a pizzeria featuring pies in the Neapolitan style with thin crusts, and spare, but quality, toppings. We caught up with Amber one afternoon before he fired up the pizza ovens.
Q: You came on the scene known for highly constructed, vertical food. Is heading a spot known for making pizzas, one of the flattest foods imaginable, as much as a 180-degree turn as it would seem?
A: It’s certainly more rustic. It’s not something I’ve ever specialized in, but it’s just another form of cooking. At Chow, they served hundreds of pizzas a day and had a wood-fired oven. So it’s nothing new to me. I mean, look at Bruce Hill [Oritalia, Waterfront and Bix] now at Zero Zero. He was known for fine dining. Next thing you know, he’s a pizza maker. It’s not unheard of.
Q: Why is it that so many chefs are now becoming pizza makers? Is it a trend?
A: I wouldn’t say it’s a trend. It’s been done a long, long time. It is wildly popular now, no question. But pizza period, even bad pizza, is wildly popular. Pizza as a concept is just wildly popular. And good artisan pizza, while not for everyone, is finding a niche. I just think people are happy to get something authentic, handmade, well-crafted, thought out, and well cared for. It’s not like any other cooking. It’s very specialized.
Q: As a kid, I never would have imagined ordering a pizza with an egg on it. Now, I don’t think twice about it, and it almost seems as if anything goes on pizzas these days. Do you agree?
A: No. I don’t buy that. Like, I hate seeing apple Gorgonzola pizza. I’m sure it tastes great, but it’s odd. As for the egg, the first time I saw that, I saw it at Globe [in San Francisco] 10 or 12 years ago. It’s all stuff that people have taken from traditional Neapolitan pizza. At our place, you’re not going to find chicken and pesto on pizza, or funky toppings.
Q: You kind of touched on this with the apple-Gorgonzola pizza, but is there one type of pizza that you think is just a travesty to pizza’s good name?
A: Canned mushrooms on a pizza is gross, but a great mushroom pizza is a thing of beauty. The funghi pizza in Italy is beautiful. A lot of chefs would agree that pineapple is a little bit of a travesty on a pizza, but I’d pick pineapple and prosciutto over chicken pesto or apple Gorgonzola any day.
The Forge, 66 Franklin St., Oakland, 510-268-3200, www.theforgepizza.com.