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Why Pizza Makes Us Happy

Peter Reinhart is a baker and author based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was co-founder of the legendary Brother Juniper’s Bakery in Sonoma, California, and is the author of several award-winning books on the art of bread baking, including Bread Revolution and The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

Ten years ago he set out on a journey to discover where to find—and how to make—the best pizza in the country, from New York to Phoenix, AZ and everywhere in-between (with a side-trip to Italy, of course). His findings make up the backbone of the book American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza.

We caught up with Peter to ask him a few questions about America's favorite food.

Live Happy: What is it about pizza that makes it so popular? 

Peter Reinhart: Pizza, if you think about it, is just dough with something on it. But there's something amazing about that concept, dough with something on it (think quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, sandwiches in general, and naan bread as other variations of pizza under different names).

In the end, pizza is the perfect flavor delivery system and, when the dough is excellent and the toppings are of good quality, you can deliver a memorable flavor experience. I think that's the key to pizza's popularity — a great combination of dough and topping in the perfect flavor delivery system.

LH: Why do you think Americans have basically adopted pizza as our national dish? 

PR: Because we like to claim everything as our own as we adapt it to our flavor palate and with local ingredients and preferences. Americans tend to be unbound by traditional rules, such as the Naples pizza method which is very specific (albeit, excellent), and we have access to many diverse and great ingredients such as excellent flour, our own domestic cheeses modeled on the European cheeses, and a vast array of international topping options.

Coupled with pizza's natural ability to transmit (or deliver) flavor, we have created an unlimited number of variations that everyone can claim as their own. It's kind of a win-win all around.

LH: What do you love most about pizza? What made you want to research it and write about it? 

PR: Pizza just works. Even average pizza—even frozen pizza—is better than no pizza because dough with something on it always delivers flavor. But my quest was to find out what separates good pizza from the great ones, since everyone is working with the same basic concept: dough with cheese and toppings.

Once you've had a memorable pizza it kind of ruins you for the average pizza (but doesn't stop you from still eating it when that's all that's available). But I'm driven by that question: what's the difference between good and great, and pizza is a perfect example or metaphor of that dichotomy.

LH: Does pizza make people happy, and if so, why?

PR: Yes, for the reasons cited above. It is the perfect flavor delivery system and yet there are so many ways to make it. It's also a craft that almost anyone can learn, so it's becoming a great home hobby, like bread making and craft brewing.

It's also one of the few meals that can bring the whole family together quickly—who doesn't love pizza? It kind of democratizes the table — the one thing we can rally around and enjoy.

Emily Wise Miller is the Web Editor at Live Happy.

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