Joe Luckey describes cooking pizza in a wood-fired oven as driving a gear stick. There’s a lot of touch and go, feeling the dough to read how it behaves on any given day; judging the fire to make sure it’s hot enough and big enough to spot the leopard you want without burning the bottom of the crust; and feel your way through the oven, which seems organic and alive. It’s the reason he gives when asked why, as a chef well versed in good food, he decided to sign up for a seemingly humble pizza counter in City Foundry’s Food Hall – and a major factor behind the creativity he brings to his Neapolitan inspired cakes. Bee Fordo’s Killer pizza (3730 Gieterijweg).
Luckey was a natural choice to lead chef and restaurateur Gerard Craft’s City Foundry pizza project. After working for Craft at Taste and the French-inspired Brasserie in the Central West End, Luckey was asked to run the kitchen at Craft’s Nashville outpost of his popular Clayton eatery, Pastaria, where he worked for two years before returning to the Clayton of the brand. flagship. During his time at both Pastaria locations, he fell in love with the pizza station, where he found making pies in the red-hot wood-burning oven the most fun he’d had in his culinary career. When Craft began sketching out a plan for a Neapolitan-style pizza kitchen at City Foundry, he immediately recognized Luckey as the person to help him execute his vision.
Part of Craft’s reasoning was Luckey’s undeniable passion for wood-fired pizza. But more importantly, he saw Luckey as someone who would find creative inspiration in the form rather than feel limited by it. He encouraged Luckey to set the standards — a Margherita, a four-cheese, a pepperoni — but then gave him the freedom to be as creative as he wanted with the concept. Empowered by that mandate and anchored by Craft’s excellent pizza dough recipe, which was created especially for Fordo’s, Luckey set about transforming a humble counter into a bastion of pizza-based creativity.
Luckey debuted his creations when Fordo opened to the public last May. Tucked into the far southeast corner of the dining area, the stall (or “kitchen,” as they’re technically called at City Foundry) has a secluded feel from the rest of the complex’s hustle and bustle. The corner-style setting is necessitated by the pizzeria’s large oven: a massive wood Vesuvio oven made by esteemed Italian manufacturer Gianni Acunto that looks less like a cooking appliance and more like a white stone trullo found in Italy’s Puglia region. is. It’s a serious device that draws your attention to the stall, but a beautifully insane mural by artist Vidhya Nagara, who is equal parts Eric Ripert and Glen Danzig, gives the place an air of irreverence. So is Fordo’s playlist, affectionately dubbed “Wood-fired Bops” by the team, which plays during the shift.
Luckey notes that the playlist is different from other Niche Food Group kitchens — that Craft’s other properties allow music during prep time, but once service begins, the radio is turned off and it’s time to get down to business. That Fordo’s hums to tunes throughout the workday captures the spirit of what Craft and Luckey set out to achieve here: a whimsical, fun romp that’s anchored in Niche Food Group’s culinary philosophy, but allowed to be playful thanks to the fundamentally fun genre of pizza .
Hawaiian pizza captures this spirit. Here, Luckey starts with Craft’s dough recipe, which leads to a master-level crust. Puffed up to a pillowy texture around the edges, yet soft and thin in the center like a true Neapolitan pie, the crust gets these perfect blueberry-sized charred patches that flake to the point of breaking open but never really cross that line. The char adds a nice, toasty bitterness to the otherwise nutty crust and serves as a built-in counterpart to the sweetness of the Hawaiian’s roasted pineapple sauce. Unlike a typical Hawaiian pie that scatters pineapple chunks all over the pizza, Fordo’s caramelized tropical sauce permeates every bite and melds with the accompanying mozzarella cheese topping. Slices of Volpi Heritage prosciutto, shaved so thin they’re translucent, cover every millimeter of the pizza’s unswollen edge surface, coating the dish with salty luxury brightened by pungent red onion and jalapeño. It’s a stunning riff on the form.
Instead of a standard sausage pizza, Fordo’s offers one made with chunks of deliciously rich, spice-laden beef sausage. The melted fat from the meaty crumbs mixes with the spicy roasted tomato sauce and gilds the melted fontina and parmesan cheeses that coat the pie. Peppers, chives and sweet caramelized onions that are so soft you could smear them round out this wonderfully satisfying dish.
One of Luckey’s more creative twists is the shakshuka, a pizza take on the North African breakfast dish. Here he starts by coating the crust with a hot-spiced red pepper sauce typical of the traditional version of the dish, then tops it with egg white before popping it in the oven. He admits this is unconventional, but it’s an approach that’s been the result of many failures, most of them cracking the whole egg on the cake. By separating the yolks and topping the pizza with them when it comes out of the oven, he is able to cook the whites so they form a nice coating that acts as a substitute for a fresh cheese. Yolks, feta and fresh herbs are placed on top of this base as soon as it comes out of the oven for a dish that is not only delicious but also showcases the innovation that can come from even a humble food stall.
Luckey’s more conventional offerings are equally successful. A Margherita pizza—the standard by which all Neapolitan-style pizzerias should be judged—hits the mark with its clear tomato sauce, rounds of fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. A four-cheese blend beautifully combines mozzarella, Taleggio, fontina, and parmesan with a drizzle of honey; the sweetness is a nice contrast to the subtle funk of the cheeses. A wild mushroom pie cleverly combines the fungi with citrus gremolata to spice up the earthiness, and a typical pepperoni pizza captures the glorious, cheesy, greasy comfort you want from such a concoction, all the way to the pepperoni oil collecting in the lightly cracked sausage. slices. Combined with Fordo’s delicious Candied Garlic Puree, it’s easy, decadent bliss.
Luckey describes the painstaking process of making that garlic mash. First, he confits fresh garlic cloves in butter, slowly and slowly, to bring out the sweetness without the bitter burnt taste that comes from going too fast. Like cooking a wood-fired pie, there’s an art and a sense to such an endeavor.
He also says he got the idea for the condiment from Papa John’s garlic sauce. If there was ever a better summary of this wonderful addition to the area’s pizza scene, I’d love to see it.
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