Chef David Mitchell of Trophy Brewing Owes Me a Pizza Dough Recipe

Let’s get one thing straight, okay? I’m not a chef, that’s for sure. (I’m just a groupie who follows them around.) Even so, I’m starting to understand what it’s like to be one. For instance, it seems like it’s hard to keep track of your schedule, especially when you run the kitchens of three different well-regarded eating and drinking establishments in an up-and-coming foodie city.

Case in point:  It’s a Monday night and I’ve been sitting at the bar of Busy Bee in downtown Raleigh for 45 minutes when a guy emerges from the kitchen to tell me that Chef David Mitchell forgot about our interview.

“He had an event over at State of Beer and says he totally forgot. He’s really sorry! He’s there now if you still want to talk to him.”

I could be angry, but the truth is, I get it. Chefs in this town are starting to receive a lot of well-deserved acclaim, but I know they’re still hustling, working odd hours and shuttling from kitchen to kitchen, hardly remembering where they are or where (or with whom) they need to be next. They’re still innovating, updating, reinventing. As the guy in charge of the food at Busy Bee, Trophy Brewing & Pizza Co., and the new bottle shop State of Beer, Chef David’s got a full plate (oh yep I did).

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It’s drizzling, and my elusive interviewee is standing outside State of Beer when I park my car outside. I can tell he feels bad. “You’re really making me work for this, huh?” I ask, but with a smile as a peace offering.

Chef David may be a trained chef—he was in a culinary arts program while still in high school near Atlanta and graduated from Johnson & Wales in Charleston—but he started cooking when he was nine-years-old. Nine! For the sake of comparison, I’m pretty sure I was filling frisbees with mud to make “pies” when I was nine and decorating them with grass and rocks.

As David tells it, things at home were a little unsettled when he was a kid, and he would often cook for himself and his sister. Even as a nine-year-old, he liked to cook: doing so gave him a kind of instant gratification—he could read his successes (and failures) in the faces of the people eating his food. It was an early act of creativity and invention, and it gave him something to share with others. It still does.

As we sit down for our interview, I’m no idiot and I cut right to the chase: I ask for his pizza dough recipe. He laughs.

“Are you kidding? I can’t tell you that.”

I wasn’t kidding. Is he kidding?

“I’m kidding,” he says. I exhale—too loudly, I think.

As I’ll learn momentarily, Chef David will fully disclose that the recipe he uses at Trophy is based on one from Mario Batali. But with a twist.

“When we decided to open Trophy, I’d actually never worked in a pizza place before. I knew of pizza. I’d heard of it. I knew what it was. And obviously I really enjoyed eating it. But how was I going to make it unique?”

Enter: beer (stage left).

David tells me that the Batali dough recipe called for white wine, “but I thought, what happens if I take one of the best ingredients we have here in the city – Trophy beer – and put that in there? What would it do to the dough?”

I sit there and frantically wonder if he’ll forget to give me the actual recipe. HOW MUCH BEER. WHAT KIND.

“It was probably one of the craziest things to do when you’re baking because baking is chemistry – all precision, all formulas. So if I have everything else lined up and I throw in this huge X factor, what happens? And so we tested it. We’ve basically tried making the dough with every kind of beer we have. It’s not necessarily enough beer to take over the dough, but it does make a difference.”

A big difference, though how exactly it works its magic is a little over my head. For reasons having to do with taste and texture (crisp and chewy in the right proportions) Trophy’s pizza is some of the best I’ve ever had—and the feeling is widespread around these parts. Maybe one of these days, we’ll even get the dough recipe (and when we do, I’ll post it here). I’ve been promised that a scaled down version is forthcoming, and you better believe I’m going to stay on someone’s case until that happens.

So, what’s next for Chef David? When he first moved to North Carolina, he thought he’d stay a year. That was in 2005. He skirts the question and instead asks me what kind of restaurant I’d like to see in Raleigh. I spout something about a new ramen place I’d just tried in Durham, the spots I’d loved back in Brooklyn, the awesomeness of showcasing good local ingredients front and center, whether it’s beer or oyster mushrooms.

He listens attentively enough that I have a hunch he’s going to stick around.
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