Chow Bella

Backyard Pizza Night at Jason Raducha's

Standing on a hand paved brick patio, vines climbing a wrought iron trellis, a moonlight sky, inhaling the scent from the wood fired oven, it was hard to believe we were in north Phoenix rather than northern Italy.

It was Backyard Pizza Night at Jason Raducha's.

Professionally, Jason wears a few different hats. He can be found calling on restaurants and specialty food stores for Nicola Imports. He runs his own technology company for school systems, and spends a few shifts a week at Sur La Table selling his favorite toys for cooks.

And Jason hosts a network of family and friends for Backyard Pizza Night, a wide circle which includes his restaurant and food scene contacts. The answer is YES if you score an invitation.

Indoors, Jason 's refrigerator holds the clues to his pizza passion. Homemade dough snuggles next to Piave -Italian cow's milk cheese, while Soprasta -hangs close by curing next to a jar of rendered duck fat. Jason began crafting pizza as a ten-year-old working on a Boy Scout merit badge. Growing up in a large Italian family, he credits Dad's barbeque skills, Mom's pastry know how and his Nona's cooking for fueling his passion to perfect pizza.

He crafts his dough by hand, but proudly still owns the Westbend bread maker received as a gift from family when he was 12. His tips for perfect pizza dough at home: high hydration, very wet, sticky dough, highest quality ingredients for toppings, and cranking up the oven for intense heat. Jason's heat comes from his Forno Bravo wood burning outdoor oven.

The collection of pizza peels spread out in the kitchen were quickly covered with dough and toppings of imported San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, quality olive oil and sea salt. Once covered, the pies were expertly placed in the outdoor oven. In only minutes, the crust was blistered and brown, slightly charred on the bottom and edges.

Our first bite was proof: This self-described pizza fanatic has mastered his passion.

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Carol Blonder