After almost 30 years with the Encinitas Fire Department, firefighter John Gonzales began contemplating his upcoming retirement in 2015.
He thought it was time to shake things up in his life, and make a move, and this past July, he started Bottaro Wood Fired Pizza. Bottaro is the maiden name of his mother, an Italian-American.
In launching a business, Gonzales decided on a product that he loved himself and knew something about.
“My parents were cooks, and I learned a lot from them,” he explained. “With the fire department, you are always cooking and you want the food to be healthy.”
Gonzales was also experienced with wood-fired pizza. He built stone ovens in two of his own homes, and three homes belonging to friends.
“They’d say, ‘You should open up a restaurant,’” he said.
Although Gonzales has no plans to open a restaurant, his street fair and farmers’ market business is soaring. His catering services are also in demand, for weddings and other special events.
On Dec. 11 he had an opportunity to showcase his signature wood-fired pizza when he was asked by Tom Chino, and his wife Nina MacConnel, to cater a book signing for celebrity chef Alice Waters at their Chino Family Farm in Rancho Santa Fe. Waters is proprietor of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. and the first woman to be named Best Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation. Her latest book is, 40 years of Chez Panisse: The Power of Gathering.
“We served 700 or 800 people in two hours and John was great, and his oven was great,” said MacConnel. “We made a few toppings using produce from our farm and everything went so smoothly. People were thrilled with John’s pizza including Alice Waters!”
Gonzales uses finely milled, organic flour for the dough, then ferments it between 24 and 72 hours.
“It’s sweeter than most pizzas, crispy on the top and bottom, and chewy in the middle,” he said.
“The sauce is made with raw, crushed tomatoes from Stanilaus. It’s the closest thing I can find to the way tomatoes are packaged in Italy.”
Gonzales said his mother taught him to start any recipe with fresh ingredients, and not allow one ingredient, like garlic, to overpower all the others.
“American pizza is weighed down with too many vegetables,” he said. “With my pizzas, you can see each, individual ingredient.”
Gonzales buys produce locally, from Suzie’s Farm in San Diego and the at Paul Ecke Elementary School on Sundays.
“I’m there at least two times a month, depending on my job,” he explained. “I trade my pizza for fresh vegetables.”
“He also trades pizza for taffy, flan, bread and honey,” added oldest son, Thomas, 8.
“My favorite is the ‘White Pie’ because it has the most cheese (mozzarella, fontina, ricotta and parmigiamo) and the cheeses my dad uses are pretty delicious.” The White Pie is also made with a buttery sauce using onion, lemon and wine.
Bottaro Wood Fired Pizza offers a selection of five other vegetable and meat pizzas: Margherita, Roasted Veggie, Sausage and Mushroom and Argula. La Dolce Vita is a dessert pizza made with marscopone, ricotta, seasonal fruit nectarine, fig, peach, pear and apple. Three salads are also on the menu.
Gonzales purchased his mobile pizza oven from The Fire Within in Boulder, Colo. and subsequently developed a bond with founder and owner, Joe Pergolizzi.
“We have helped more than 100 individuals, couples and top wood-fired chefs launch their own catering businesses,” Pergolizzi said.
“People today are not just looking for another job, they want to create a more satisfied life. Europeans figured this out a long time ago, that joy should be part of their life.”
These days Gonzales has reason to be optimistic about his own life after retirement.
“It’s nice to know you can do something totally different,” he said. “The response has been incredible. I’m turning away work. I’ll be able to get more units in three years, after I retire.”
For more information visit bottarowoodfiredpizza.com.