busyfood.net – Everything About Brandoni Pepperoni’s Pizzas Scream Los Angeles
In Dish Decoded, we break down all the components, stories, and techniques behind a restaurant’s… well… dish that we’re obsessed with right now.
“I’ve lived in a 10-mile bubble my entire life,” says chef Brandon Gray from his home in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. He begins to map out the milestones of his life in proximity to where he lives now. He’s three blocks from his first high school. Two and a half miles from the high school he graduated from. Three miles from his childhood home. “Everything I know is L.A.,” Gray continues. “L.A. is me, and food is the best representation of me.”
Enter Brandoni Pepperoni, Gray’s pizza pop-up that’s a cheese-covered homage to his hometown, from the farmers’ market ingredients to the West Coast hip hop-inspired names. He started making pizzas for fun, mainly at the request of friends, but ever since he opened orders to the public, the pop-up has taken a life of its own. Perhaps that’s because of the branding (trying saying Brandoni Pepperoni without smiling), or maybe it’s because of the giddy-making magic you feel when you place the order via text and pick it up at Gray’s home. But it’s definitely because of Gray’s technique, honed after years working in restaurant kitchens like Providence and Trois Mec; proudly Californian provenance; and a little attitude (recognize the song titles on the menu?). Here, he explains everything that goes into one of his best-selling pizzas: Colors.
Like many iconic hip-hop tracks, this pizza dough is the product of collaboration. Gray hit up chefs and pandemic-era sourdough enthusiasts, for pointers on how to perfect his dough. The current iteration is made up of two Italian flours—very fine Tipo 00 and stone-ground Buratto—and one local flour, Rouge de Bordeaux from heritage grain farm Tehachapi Grain Project, for extra wheaty flavor. After the flours are mixed with water and yeast, the dough is slowly fermented for 24 hours. The result is a pizza crust with just the right amount of chew and crackle.
Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes are cooked down for hours with dried oregano and thyme from Kandarian Organic Farms in San Luis Obispo; “the best garlic in the world” from Milliken Family Farms in Santa Barbara; and, in lieu of the usual red pepper flakes, Thai chile powder. “It adds a unique spiciness and a smoky vibe,” Gray explains. “This is me going against the grain.”
Coleman Family Farms in Carpinteria supplies about 70 percent of the produce for Brandoni Pepperoni, but Gray’s got a soft spot for the farm’s extra leafy broccolini. “You never see broccolini with leaves—some farmers tear them off—but Coleman keeps them on and I love them,” he says. “They crisp up like chips in the oven, and lend an earthy flavor.”
This is not your classic Italian sausage. “This is my interpretation of Jimmy Dean’s breakfast sausage,” Gray says. “I grew up on that.” Maple syrup gives this garlicky, fennel-y, porky mix that same nostalgic sweetness. It also balances out the sausage’s triple-dose of heat: Kashmiri chile powder, smoked paprika, and more Thai chile powder.
Gray ventured beyond state lines for Grande, the “crème de la crème” of mozzarella made in Wisconsin.
The Finishing Touches
“Ten years ago, people were putting edible flowers on food to make it look pretty, but they served no other purpose,” Gray explains. “But here they emphasize something.” The yellow broccolini flowers echo the bitterness of the broccolini, while the fresh, cucumber-like flavor of the purple borage plays off that sharpness. A drizzle of garlic oil, made by poaching Milliken Family Farm’s finest in Buon Gusto Farms olive oil, finishes Colors, which is named after the famed Ice-T song. “It represents my personality,” Gray says. “Eating this, you’re like pow, bang, boom.”