PizzaaCasaHeavyMetalHandSign.jpgMark Bello wants to teach you how to make a perfect pizza at home. With fresh dough and carefully selected local and Italian ingredients, Bello makes delectable thin-crust pies using his standard home oven in Chinatown, or, through his catering and cooking class company, Pizza a Casa in your home oven as well. He spreads the pizza gospel throughout the city teaching classes at the likes of Murray's and Astor Center and at private events.

Clearly, you are a man obsessed.  How did your love for pizza grow to the level it is today? I was living in Chicago a number of years ago where my only pizza options were deep dish or dismal brand-name pizzas.  Every trip back home (my family is in NYC and NJ), I would load up on my favorite pizzas, meticulously wrap and label each slice, freeze and transport them back to Chicago for a carefully planned rationing until my next visit home. There needed to be another way, so I took to my kitchen and started playing around with dough recipes and techniques on a quest to make a killer pie in a home oven.  For friends fleeing the after bar, greasy spoon scene, my place became a late-night pizza parlor/laboratory. Ten years later I believe I'm on to something...

You run a company called Pizza a Casa -- tell us about that. I went to art school finishing with a masters degree in sculpture. I have done a lot of installation and public artwork, which in a way informs what I'm doing now. Pizza a Casa is definitely artisan catering, but it can also be a performance and an interactive experience. I'll cater a party and stay under the radar or I'll teach a class and take center stage. It depends on the audience. But ultimately I want people to come away with an appreciation for the ingredients and the art, and also the ability to do this on their own.

Why do you think people are intimidated by making pizza at home? It's all about the dough. People are afraid of the yeast failing. First thing I do when I teach pizza making is have everyone proof a batch of yeast. The foamy head on the yeast and warm water mixture signals success. Then we dive into dough making.

Even when the dough is store bought, I'm consistently hearing issues regarding stretching the dough out and how it bakes up. Biggest problem there is the dough is often bought frozen and getting it up to uniform, workable, bake-able temperature can be elusive (hint: thaw dough a day or so before in fridge, then leave, covered, in a warm spot (80F) before you plan on using) (bigger hint: make your own. It's easy, costs very little, and tastes much BETTER)

What are your top tips for someone attempting to make pizza at home? 1. Get a good quality baking stone. Not only does a baking stone crisp the bottom of your pizza, it also acts as a heat "capacitor" for your oven. I swear by Old Stone Oven brand (around $40). 2. Keep that oven door closed -- every time you open your oven door you lose precious heat. Stop peeking and when you open the door, get your pies in and out pronto! 3. Less is more. Don't overload you pizzas with too much or too many toppings. Great ingredients in moderation shine, and a less bogged-down pizza cooks better.

What are some of the most unusual but delicious pizza topping combinations you've had (or made)? I ordered a pizza once in Rome. Red sauce, cheese, sausage, and much to my surprise it arrived with a runny sunny side-up egg on it which the waiter proceeded to slash Zorro-style with a fork as he served it. Incredible. One of those eggs with the deep orange-y/ yolks that tastes like an egg should taste. This was the inspiration for a pizza I do with crisp pancetta and fried sage. I make a pie called the Pesci Affumicati which means "smoked fish" in Italian. It's a delicious riff on the bagel and lox and an homage to my maternal grandfather Hy Brechner who grew up a customer of Russ and Daughters and turned me on to their shop. It all started one morning when I had a couple of crusts in my fridge and some R&D smoked fish. The ingredients are as follows (pictured here):
Russ and Daughters (NYC) smoked fish, roasted red onion, capers, creme fraiche, and poppy seeds.

What are your three favorite pizza places in New York (if you can narrow it down to three)?
1. Old School: Totonno's, very specifically the one in Coney Island. 2. New School: Franny's, Brooklyn. As for 3, there are too many great places to list, and many I still need to visit. I'm eating a lot of my own pizzas these days so on my off time you can often find my at my favorite haunts in Chinatown.

You teach classes to folks who'd like to learn the art of pizza making. Are there any coming up soon? My upcoming classes at Murray's and Astor Center are sold out. I've got some early next year at The JCC Manhattan. I'm doing special tasting of pizzas for a wine event at Christie's later this month. I'm putting together a intensive pizza-workshop to be held at the Whole Foods Culinary Center on Houston and Bowery for Sunday December 14th. More information is on my website.