In PS.Cafe Petit at Tiong Bahru and Martin 38, gourmet pizza is one of the specialties proudly served. These lovingly hand-crafted pizzas have an imaginative array of 11 gourmet toppings with perfectly blistered crusts. Let’s unearth their secrets with Chris Phillips, F&B Director of PS.Gourmet.
The history of pizza
It is widely accepted that it has its roots in flavoured flatbread in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Although there are many opinions to its actual sources, one of it was that the Greeks hit on the idea of baking flatbread with various toppings and brought this idea with them as they colonized parts of Southern Italy. The modern pizza, Neapolitan pizza (pizza of Naples) is widely considered as the archetypal pizza. Thanks to the migration of Italians to different parts of the world, pizzas gained worldwide popularity around the late 19th century.
How do you define a well prepared delicious pizza?
The crust. The idea was to have a light texture and not a heavy, bready and doughy crust. Not an overwhelming quantity of toppings but good quality. Less is best.
What it takes to be a perfect pizza is when you can taste the crust, taste the tomato sauce, taste the salami and still taste the individual cheeses like smoked cheddar. A pizza is meant to be simple, but we think too much sometimes and keep on adding, which results in overloading.
When doing pizza research and tasting, what was the first main focus?
The main focus initially was the base crust of the pizza. So for the first 3 months of constant pizzas tasting, we never even got to try any other flavours except for the Margherita.
Which is the most challenging part of the pizza to ‘get right’?
I would say to get a perfect handmade fresh dough is the biggest challenge. You’re dealing with live cultures so maintaining consistency is not easy. Some chefs may have secret ingredients like sugar or honey but for us, it is the consistency of the base dough that matters most.
You have to get the perfect ratio of sugar, yeast and salt every time. As sugar reacts with the yeast and salt, it retards the yeast. Also technique wise, when rolling the dough, you mustn’t touch the edges as all the air pockets have to be contained in order to have a thin layer of crispness to the crust.
Besides the dough, what are the other factors contributing to a good pizza?
Temperature, it has a huge effect on the pizza crust. As it is tailored dough, we needed a suitable temperature to have the crisp crust.
Also, quantity and quality of the toppings will definitely affect the taste and texture of the pizza. In addition, wet ingredients also affect the characteristics of the dough. The dough may not rise or the base may be wet.
Overall, everything you add to the pizza will change the overall outcome. That is why we took a very long time to create our first pizza.
Around how many pizzas have you tasted?
Within seven months of R&D, three to four tasting sessions each week with around three to five pizzas per session. You can try calculate that amount of pizza tasted and tested. (laughed)
As there are many flavours of pizza around the world, where do PS.Cafe Petit get its inspirations?
We are always inspired by items that are popular in our restaurants. As pizza is the perennial comfort food, the ideas behind the toppings should be of the same elk. For example, the PS.Bolognese pizza and Carbonara pizza have flavours that are familiar and easy for people to understand and appreciate.
What are some of the differences PS.Cafe Petit pizzas have over others?
As an artisanal and traditional handmade pizza, we make everything from scratch. Starting with the dough, we only start rolling it when orders come in as there is a fine line between the dough being over or under proofed. Our doughs are made constantly throughout the day to ensure freshness.
We also prepare tomato sauce from scratch, as it cannot be too wet or too dry. Our toppings are also freshly prepared in-house and we do not use the typical ingredients you can get off the supermarket shelves.
All pizzas at PS.Cafe Petit come with the now famous chili sauce, how did this come about?
It was a good mistake made on the day when we invited guests (friends and neighbours) to a pizza tasting at PS.Cafe Petit at Tiong Bahru. Initially, the service crew informed me to order the cheese powder and chili flakes condiments for the tasting event as people love them on the pizzas. However, after going through all this hard work, I just felt that the pre-made condiments didn’t go well with the artisanal pizzas. It just seemed wrong.
After the preparations of the pizzas in the afternoon, a staff came back with packs of Chwee Kuehs (steamed rice cake topped with fried preserved turnip) for everyone’s lunch. At the moment when I started eating the Chwee Kuehs, the fried preserved turnip just inspired me. It made me feel that the fried preserved turnip would go well with the pizzas.
Within moments, I was stir-frying in a wok. Unfortunately I thought I had burnt the chili sauce when I added lemon juice. Reluctantly, I placed the burnt chili sauce aside. Fortuitously, one of the directors came in at that point to check if everything was ready and noticed the pot of chili sauce. Without hesitation, he tasted the chili sauce and praised it. We ended up serving it to the customers that night.
Thereafter, I continued to improve on the chili sauce.
What is your most adventurous pizza creation you ever made?
It would be the dessert pizzas. I have experimented some sweet creations with our team of chefs during our R&D sessions. For example, an apple pecan with butterscotch pizza and a lemon & ginger cheesecake pizza.
Will there be any new pizzas coming soon or even a dessert pizza?
Maybe a dessert pizza as PS.Cafe comes from a strong dessert background. Moving forward, there will definitely be new flavours.
Where is your favourite restaurant / pizzeria before PS.Cafe Petit?
Blue Water Pizza in Australia as it is where I have my first taste of wood-fired pizza when I was a child. I won’t say it is my favourite pizza but it is a memorable experience for tasting a wood-fired pizza
Which is your personal favorite PS.Cafe Petit pizza?
Bianca Fungi because I love the variety of mushrooms topped with truffle oil and sage. Also the Green Goddess pizza is in my favorite list! The pizza has a healthy kick with smokey pesto sauce, lots of finely-cut vegetables and topped with chèvre (goat cheese).
Can you share some insider pizza-making tips to our readers?
Try to use a pizza stone suitable for the home oven. The stone will help maintain the high temperature when you open the door of your oven. The key point is that the hotter the oven, the better the pizza as the 1½ to 2 minute is crucial for the yeast to proof and for a crisp crust.