How do four simple ingredients – flour, water, salt, and yeast – come together to create the perfect Neapolitan pizza crust? How does one achieve the signature thin layer of crispness while also producing a pie that’s light and airy? What about the difference between fresh and fermented dough? With over 20 years of cooking experience, chef Brian Ashness of Surf Club Newport has all the answers.
In 2016, while Surf Club was under construction, Ashness – who knew little about the craft at the time – flew to San Francisco to attend 13-times World Pizza Making Champion Tony Gemignani’s intensive International School of Pizza. It was there that he learned the secrets to making authentic Neapolitan-style pizza from a true master instructor. During his training, he briefly worked at one of Gemignani’s San Francisco Pizza restaurants to further hone his skills. With his newfound pizza knowledge, he continued his culinary pilgrimage traveling to the USA headquarters of Marra Forni in Beltsville, Maryland to gain experience using the style of commercial brick oven that, Ashness shares, “the Surf Club would essentially be built around.”
In October 2017, the restaurant opened its doors with a prominently located Marra Forni pizza oven drawing the eyes of curious onlookers and Ashness at the helm. Today, he focuses on new concepts and consulting for the parent company of the restaurant but returns to the Surf Club kitchen once a month to teach his popular hands-on pizza-making classes.
The classes, held on the third Wednesday of every month, start at 6pm and include appetizers from the restaurant’s menu as well as beer and wine. Guests learn every step of the process, from mixing, balling, shaping, and stretching their 72-hour fermented dough to topping and baking their own Neapolitan pie.
To make the classes even more exciting, Ashness says, “I like to make each class a bit of a competition by having the kitchen crew come out to taste each of the pizzas and collectively decide on a winner.” The best pizza of the night earns a $25 gift certificate to Surf Club – and, of course, bragging rights. Ashness shares that the classes have been a huge hit for groups of friends and families, but if you can’t make the mid-week visit, the restaurant also offers private classes that can accommodate up to 24 people.
Seeing the popularity of the pizza classes, Ashness is currently working on adding different kinds of workshops, too. Watch for charcuterie and cocktail courses on the horizon.
After all these years of eating and making delicious pies, Ashness has trouble selecting his personal favorite. “It definitely varies,” he says, “but at the moment, it’s Neapolitan-style with spicy crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, olive oil, and pecorino Romano.”
Visit online or call the restaurant at 401-619-5701 to sign up for a future class. While the January 18 offering is already sold out, the February 15 and March 15 classes still have availability at time of press. SurfClubNewport.com
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