Ross Pizza, From Oven to Plate

By Hye-Jin Kim

 

The hardest part about making pizza at Ross dining hall last Friday night was resisting the urge to face-plant into the first disk of bubbling, blistered cheese that Bobin Lee ’14.5 slid out of the oven. I swore I could hear the satisfying crunch of warm, golden-brown crust as the irresistible scent of freshly baked dough wafted up from underneath the copious amounts of homemade tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. Much more appealing than cod.

“Now, you try,” he said, casually handing me the pizza peel (the oversized Italian relative to the common spatula).

I painfully peeled my gaze away from the pizza of my dreams and wiped a little drool from my bottom lip. Carefully opening the oven door, I gingerly probed underneath the next pie with the peel. This one was spinach and tomato. I awkwardly fumbled around, struggling to balance the pizza as I slowly maneuvered it onto the cutting board. Lee quickly sliced it into exactly 16 neat and cheesy slices.

“Spinach and tomato pizza is my favorite because it’s hard to make,” Lee said. “It’s hard to balance out the flavors of the pizza. Sometimes, I get complaints from people that I know that the pizza is too crispy or there’s too little cheese.”

I jokingly pointed out that one of the slices was looking a little bare. Lee laughed. “Well, I think my pizzas have enough cheese, but some people just always want more,” he said. “For me, it tastes too greasy.”

Cheesy enough or not, the slices disappeared while Lee assembled more pizzas to bake. He started with a pre-rolled disk of thawed, pre-made dough. Using a tool that has a bizarre resemblance to a spiky paint-roller, he punctured the dough to prevent it from rising too much in the oven, followed by an even layer of tomato sauce. The pizza toppings are usually based on what ingredients are leftover from meal preparation that week.

“The key to food preparation is consistency,” Lee said, as he topped the pizza with exactly two cups of cheese and slipped it into the oven.

Lee’s favorite pizza isn’t one of his own making, nor is it from the majority of campus’ favorite joint, Ramunto’s.

“I like Domino’s for practical reasons,” Lee said. “They do delivery until midnight on most days. It’s cheap, and it tastes good. I also like the thicker crust [compared to Ross pizza].”

Around 6:15 p.m., a line materializes and pizzas begin to disappear faster than we can make them. As students impatiently glare at the empty parchment paper in front of them, Lee remains unfazed. Meanwhile, I nervously peek into the oven to check the pizza’s progress every two seconds or so, praying for the pale crust to brown faster. Lee maintains a cool and confident demeanor that I assume only comes naturally after seven semesters of pizza-making experience.

“I think it’s the people in the dining staff that made me stick around for seven semesters,” he said. “If it weren’t for the group of people here, I probably would’ve left. Everyone in general is very down to earth, very friendly, very sociable and they want to get to know you. For me, [that attitude] is something I found lacking in Middlebury’s student community. Everyone is so busy in their own lives they don’t have the time to sit down and actually invest their time and energy in getting to know other people.”

“Peter Sheldon [one of the Ross dining services chefs] invited me over to his place for Thanksgiving last year because I didn’t have any place to go. I got to have a blast with his extended family and a couple other guys on the dining staff. He also took me out shooting a couple times.”

Making Ross pizza holds a special place in both Lee’s heart and  his palette. “Personally, pizza is one of the reasons why Ross is boss. Period. Unlike a proctor panini, it’s more instant gratification, especially if you’re looking for a quick bite.”

The dining hall rush starts to slow around 7:30 p.m. We start cleaning up — wiping down counters, clearing empty trays, disposing used parchment paper. Lee teaches me how to efficiently sweep the floor, a skill he perfected during the two years he served in the Korean military.

“My least favorite part of this job is cleaning up,” Lee said. “Because nobody wants to do that.” Lee, an Economics major and international student from Bangkok, Thailand, looks down with a sad smile. “But once I graduate, I’m really going to miss the guys I work with.”

 

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