Cooking Channel’s Pizza Cuz Gives Props to East Bay Pizzerias



In a surprising wrinkle to the longstanding, often heated feud between East Coast and West Coast pizza snobs, two New York City pizza chefs recently visited Temescal stalwart Pizzaiolo (5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) to shoot the first episode of Pizza Cuz, a new program on the Cooking Channel, and came away from the experience with … nothing but love for their Bay Area pizza brethren.

Quipped Francis Garcia, one of the show’s pizza-slinging co-stars, “I really did leave my heart in San Francisco.” Cue rimshot. But when What the Fork caught up with Garcia and Sal Basille (Garcia’s cousin and co-star) for a recent phone interview, it was clear that the pair’s Bay Area pizza love was sincere.

Pizzaiolos Charlie Hallowell (right) shows off some farmers market persimmons during the premiere episode of Pizza Cuz.
  • Cooking Channel
  • Pizzaiolo's Charlie Hallowell (right) shows off some farmers' market persimmons during the premiere episode of Pizza Cuz.
For their debut episode, which focused on accomplished pizza “Masters,” Garcia and Basille — Staten Island natives and co-owners of the NYC-based Artichoke Basille pizza mini-empire — spent the better part of a day hanging out with Pizzaiolo chef-owner Charlie Hallowell. They accompanied Hallowell to the farmers’ market and watched him hand-pick the produce the restaurant would be using that day — a process that made a big impression since, according to Basille, it’s still virtually unheard of for New York City restaurateurs to take on that responsibility.

Afterward, the cousins paid a visit to the Pizzaiolo kitchen and watched Hallowell put together a pie topped with wild nettles and house-made sausage. Here in the Bay Area, we take a local, seasonal ingredient like wild nettles for granted (I must have seen them on three or four menus in the past week alone). But Garcia said he’d never even heard of nettles before filming the show: “I was thinking to myself, ‘Is this some kind of weird Bay Area thing, where you put it in your mouth and your mouth stings?’”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s spent any time watching food TV that the wild nettle pizza turned out to be up to snuff — at one point in the episode, Garcia exclaims, “I was eating weeds, and I was loving them!”

Basille (left) and Garcia, in their element.
  • Cooking Channel
  • Basille (left) and Garcia, in their element.
Over the course of six episodes, Pizza Cuz takes Garcia and Basille to pizzerias all over the country, where they check out regional specialties, learn new dough recipes, and see the logistics of how different types of pizza restaurants operate. And as much as he loved Pizzaiolo, Garcia said his favorite pizza place that he visited in Northern California was actually another Bay Area institution: Berkeley’s Cheese Board Pizza (1512 Shattuck Ave.), which is featured in the show’s third episode.

“There was something about The Cheese Board that was electric when you went inside,” Garcia said, praising the Berkeley co-op’s market-driven approach to toppings, its sourdough crust, and its “ingenious” technique of cooking pizza on upside-down baking trays. Given the shop’s infamous lines out the door, Garcia also marveled at the efficiency of the cooks: “I never saw more pizza than was pumped out at the Cheeseboard in my life.”

The half-hour-long premiere episode of Pizza Cuz, which includes the segment filmed at Pizzaiolo, will debut tonight at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the Cooking Channel. The episode will also air several more times during the course of the week — check the show’s website, or your local cable listings, for upcoming broadcast times.