Story By: Kelly Owens
Photo By: Matt Mallams
Al Grande doesn’t like to
talk about himself. Instead he’ll talk about guys like Gennaro Lombardi, who
opened the first pizzeria in New York City, or Frank Pepe, who opened the first
in New Haven, Connecticut. What the Honolulu resident and high school teacher
won’t admit, though, is that he could count himself among these “great pizzaiolos,” as he calls them.
As a kid in Providence,
Rhode Island, Al loved the pizza his Italian father made at home. So did Al’s
friends, who appeared at the Grandes’ table when the pizzas did. The
conversation—as well as the pizza—was therapeutic. “We talked about our
struggles, our happiness,” recalls Al, “and I became closer to my dad. It was a
beautiful thing.” When Al’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s fifteen years
ago, Al sought solace—a way to honor his father—through pizza. Thus was born
Pizza Therapy, Al’s mind-bogglingly comprehensive web site of recipes, reviews,
even instructions on how to run a pizzeria, from the pie to payroll.
Al wasn’t prepared for the
response. Noted impizzario Peter Reinhart included him in American Pie: My
Search for the Perfect Pizza. Al
served as a “pizza ambassador” at this year’s National Pizza Expo (yes, there
is one). DiGiorno FedExed him its pizzas and adjusted the recipe based on his
feedback. Not bad for a pizzaiolo stranded on an island whose sole contribution
to the dish is pineapple and ham.
Still, pizza delicioza can be found in the Islands, Al says, naming three
venues in particular: J.J. Dolan’s, V-Lounge and Inferno's. For those who’d
rather take their therapy into their own hands, Al has a simple formula: four cups flour, a teaspoon of yeast, one-and-a-half
cups water and a teaspoon of salt. Give the dough a day to ferment in the
fridge before baking, and don’t cook your sauce, Al says. Purée the tomatoes,
add a dash of oil, garlic and basil and spread it. Then—the real secret to
great pizza—bake in an oven that reaches at least five hundred degrees.
As for how he plans to
celebrate this October’s National Pizza Month? “Maybe I’ll make an extra pizza,
but for me every month is National Pizza Month.”