Oat Tong is the kitchen manager of Mellow Mushroom in Avondale. Much of his time is devoted to employee development, but he still spends at least two days a week making pies. “I’m a great pizza maker, and I make a mean sandwich,” says Tong, who as a corporate trainer taught Mellow Mushroom staffers the proper way to prepare pizzas. Here’s what else he had to say about what your local pizzaiolo knows:
The number-one seller where Tong works is pepperoni and mushroom, a topping combination that’s Tong’s favorite, too. But he’s partial to patrons who place unconventional orders. “I see feta and banana peppers, I’m like, ‘Ooh, I like this guy.’ Especially if they’re kids, asking for jalapenos and ricotta, I’m like, ‘Those are cool parents. They’re being so different from everyone else.’ It blows my mind when I see kids get a veggie pizza.”
Part of training new pizza makers is sampling what they produce, so Tong has eaten plenty of funny-shaped pies. Anxiety complicates the quest for roundness, he explains: “Everyone’s terrified of the dough. It has molasses in it, so it’s very rubbery. It’s strange: It’s very gummy at first, so you have to add a lot of cornmeal. But you can’t be afraid of it.” Tong practiced making pizzas on his days off until he felt comfortable patching holes in the dough.
Quality crust and robust sauce contribute to a pizza’s greatness, but from the maker’s perspective, it’s the balance of ingredients that matters most. “It can’t be one overwhelming taste,” Tong says. “You’ve got to make sure there’s enough sauce, enough cheese. Tong advises customers to keep that principle in mind when choosing toppings: When he’s not eating pepperoni-and-mushroom pizza, Tong likes pizza with shiitake mushrooms and teriyaki chicken.