Rupert Bates Winter 2021
It felt clandestine. I am deep into season two of Boardwalk Empire and while I lack the sartorial elegance of Nucky Thompson, I momentarily transport myself back to the Prohibition era of 1920s America, before waking up in rural Sussex.
I dropped off the ‘contraband’ – this magazine’s very own BBQ Rye IPA beer – at the back door. Dough, not that kind, was being kneaded and stretched. Wild Flour Pizza owner Chris Phillips took the drink away, promising to let me know when the first-ever batch of BBQ beer pizza was ready.
First a bit about Wild Flour Pizza. Not even if Al Capone put a gun to his head, would Phillips tell the secret of his dough recipe. I am no chef, no miller, no pizzaiolo, but I know a good pizza crust and base and Wild Flour’s are exceptional.
You won’t find Wild Flour Pizza unless I tell you and then I’d have to kill you. I’ll tell you anyway, for such genius and passion, bordering on obsession, deserves a wide audience and will have pizzeria and oven owners the breadth of the land wondering who this wood-fired wizard is.
Ovingdean is near Brighton. When you arrive in the village turn off the satnav and wind down your window; an exquisite toasty aroma will guide your final yards.
The first thing you notice is that this artisan pizzeria – takeaway only – looks just like a pretty country cottage; that’s because it essentially is, courtesy of Jennifer Phillips, Chris’s mum.
Wild Flour is a family affair, with Chris running the business with his wife, Virginia, and Ovingdean very much the home village, although a parish where the likes of rock stars Nick Cave and Royal Blood have dropped in for pizza.
Chris Phillips used to be a private chef, alongside a career in the music business with Ovingdean also home to his recording studios.
There was cooking in the Alps, supper clubs at home and then Phillips bought a little wood-fired oven home one day and started flogging pizzas from his back garden.
He now has a bigger – much, much bigger – oven; in fact, ‘The Beast’ is 2.8m inside and you could cook around 14 wood-fired pizzas at a time. Weighing in on arrival by crane at nearly seven tons, it initially sunk into the driveway.
When he first started cooking pizzas, Phillips ‘always struggled with the dough.” He admits he stumbled on his super dough by accident after much trial and error and trying nearly 100 different flours.
“It takes four times longer than normal to make our dough and there are no shortcuts. It is about the taste and the texture and also the digestibility, getting the yeast right. You need that crunch as well as the chew. That’s all I’m telling you!”
I turn to head chef Susie Pitt, who lives on a houseboat, and pizzaiola Marco Di Gaetano, from pizza’s spiritual home Naples, but there is a stone-based silence, even when threatened with a pizza peel. This is the only crime caper where the criminal asks: ‘what’s the dough?’ not ‘where’s the dough?’
Phillips is not the only alchemist in this kitchen. Pitt has cooked professionally around the world, but always comes back to pizza. She started out at Pizza Express, developed dough for Jamie Oliver and ran a wood-fired pizza pop-up at Brighton station.
“Susie is the best dough stretcher out there and believe me there is an art to it,” says Phillips.
He does give up one secret. He plays music to his yeast, for it is a living organism, so he soothes it with some opera or jazz in the background, not heavy metal and no shouting in the kitchen.
“As well as the importance of time, temperature and humidity, you also need to listen to your dough. You mustn’t have any negative energy in the kitchen. Give me two balls of dough, one that was made to music and one not and I can tell the difference,” says Phillips. He is serious and with cooking and music his twin passions, why doubt him? Maybe stealing his playlist will reveal the first super dough clue.
So, to the beer. Pitt took our BBQ Rye IPA, specifically brewed by Powder Monkey Brewing to pair with grilled meats, and substituted the beer for just over half the water in the dough mix. ‘The Firecracker One’ BBQ beer-crusted pizza topping was made – a white base with cream and seasoned crème fraiche, smoked jalapeno and pepper sausage, spicy salami, spring onions and wood-fired chilli flakes. A BBQ Rye IPA was duly poured to accompany the dish and the verdict was delicious
with Phillips delighted with the result, confirming that “beer and pizza really do
go hand in hand” while Pitt loved the match saying the pizza “added a layer of sweetness’ to the rye and malt of the beer. We even had a doctor in the pizza house in the shape of cardiologist James Cockburn – not for health reasons, but reward for leading me to this hidden gem in his neighbouring village.
The garlic bread was a triumph as well. “That’s made with the BBQ beer too,” says Phillips, before heading to the garden and the pantry, pulling out other ingredients and suggesting more BBQ and beer recipes.
His curiosity is boundless, experimenting with flavours and cultures, drawing on Italian, Indian and Lebanese influences among others, as well as the best British ingredients, creating an ever-evolving range of pizzas.
But what is non-negotiable is the dough. “What’s the recipe again Chris?’ I casually ask, hoping the beer may have taken effect.
I leave Ovingdean thinking of Wild Flour fan Nick Cave and whistling the theme tune to Peaky Blinders. Maybe Tommy Shelby can help extract the information I need. I’m back in the 1920s.
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