PHOENIX — The door won't open for 30 minutes, and people are already waiting outside Pizzeria Bianco.
The doors open, and people flood in.
And Chris Bianco, standing in front of the brick oven, white hair sticking straight up like Albert Einstein, still seems baffled that anyone would show up at all... like he wonders how long his luck will hold out.
"Life's like an ebb and flow," he says, stretching his famous dough. "One day, a lot of people come. Another day maybe they don't come, so we just take it day by day."
Bianco is like the Dalai Llama of pizza. Or maybe Yoda dishing out pearls of pizza wisdom.
"Some experiences I've had standing in front of an oven had everything to do with life," he says.
Bianco's life is pizza. He's been making pizza for 34 years, starting in the back of a grocery store in Phoenix and building up to a small but incredibly famous pizza empire.
He's arguably the most famous pizza chef in the country, maybe even the world.
He was named Oprah's favorite pizza in the early 2000s. A New York Times profile proclaimed that the road to "pizza nirvana" went through his doors. He has two James Beard Awards (they're like the Oscars of food...and most people never even get one, much less two). Then there are the countless TV appearances, a Netflix special and more.
And yet, as he makes his famous Rosa pizza, he still seems unsure if his life's work will turn out today.
"I like our chances," he says, lifting up a corner of the cooked dough before sliding it in for a few more seconds.
The Rosa has become the pizza you must try at any of the three Pizzeria Biancos (two in Phoenix, one in Los Angeles). It's a parmesan base, topped with red onions, rosemary, crushed pistachios and olive oil.
it's simple and incredibly good. And for years, no one wanted it.
"Nobody ordered this thing for like three years," he said, taking a bite of the finished product. "Four years we didn't sell one of these.”
After so many years, Bianco probably doesn't have to worry about his pizza or his reputation when it comes to pizza.
He's thought more about this one type of food than most people have probably thought about anything.
"Pizza is the first food we have away from our home, so becomes our food," he said.
"It's a very humble food, and it's a very inviting food," he said. And it's a food that requires sharing. One pizza split many ways. Everyone eats.
But behind the fame, the crowds, the restaurants, and the pizza itself...there's Arizona.
"I grew up in a world that was a lot about secret recipes and secret sauce and secret whatever," he said.
Instead of keeping it a secret, Bianco wants you to know what he knows: that every ingredient comes from a place in Arizona that he's seen. It's grown by a farmer that he's met. And it's an ingredient that he trusts.
Bianco's world was New York City. He grew up there, worked there...and then one day decided to leave. He found himself in Arizona.
“We are blessed now with some of the greatest farmers anywhere," Bianco said. "There are onions from Bob and pistachios from Santa Cruz County down south."
Take the Rosa: The onions are, indeed, local. The pistachios are grown on an Arizona pistachio farm (which most people don't even know Arizona has). The wheat for the dough is a special variant called Desert Durum. It's so good for making pizza dough and pasta that Arizona sends massive quantities of it to Italy for the Italians to make pasta.
Bianco snatched it up and made it a centerpiece.
“Maybe that helps us slow down a little bit as well as we hammer through the not-so-happy meals of our life," Bianco said. "In the supersizing or the Big Gulps and, you know, maybe if we just stopped gulping and start sipping on good things that we make, you know, we make the time at the table more special."
Bianco is arguably one of Arizona's biggest culinary exports. Pizza chefs around the country take their cues from him.
But it all comes back to the kitchen that Bianco seems worried may not make good pizza, the crowds that he's worried may not come back, and the ingredients from Arizona that have made it all possible.
Chris Bianco has nothing to worry about.
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