I met Vladimir Cole, editor of the video game blog Joystiq, about a week after he had come to the end of a 3.5 month all-pizza diet. That's right: for three meals a day for over three months, Vlad ate nothing but pizza (or a strictly-defined derivative thereof). In our chat that night, he told me a range of stories – from blowing wads of cash at Spago to forming a minor addiction the Sullivan Street Bakery – but what most impressed me was that he actually lost weight on the diet. Like, a good deal of weight, Like, 20 pounds. I caught up with him over instant messenger a couple of weeks later to find out how he did it.
Slashfood: I guess the obvious place to start is: why a piizza diet?
VC: Well -- I was eating with some friends at Pepe's in New Haven (best pie in the world, FYI: bacon-clam-garlic white pie) and was talking about how much I loved it. I must have had more than my share of beer because I found myself saying something along the lines of ,"I could eat nothing but this for the rest of my life and die happy." One of my buddies said, "I bet you couldn't" and I was like, "I bet I could" and it devolved from there, with me agreeing to a 3.5 month pizza-only diet.
Slashfood: Why 3.5 months?
VC: Well, actually it was 314 consecutive meals. 3.14 = pi. Like pizza...
Slashfood: Oh, interesting...
VC: We just thought it'd be funny. Terms of the bet: I had to eat nothing but pizza. Any other food would have to be liquid form... So technically, I could have put a burger in a blender and drank it smoothie style, but that would have been gross.
Slashfood: Right. So how were you defining "pizza"? Would an english muffin with melted cheese count?
VC: Well -- yeah, that was a topic of great discussion. Basically any flat bread cooked in an oven with toppings. English muffins: not really flat. more of an open-faced sammich at that point. When I made pizza at home I put almost everything on it, though. It started with a la cocca, Italian style where you break an egg on top then put in oven. Then i started ordering chinese takeout and putting General Tso's and sesame chicken on top. Amazing pie: rao's vodka sauce with sesame chicken. AMAZING flavors...
Slashfood: Oh, wow ... on homemade crust?
VC: Well -- I used Astoria greek pita bread. Pizza as you know is Italian slang derived from "pita". Only available in astoria as far as I know. I'd make trips out there to buy it.
Slashfood: In bulk?
VC: Well - yeah. I'd buy about 50 at a time. Since I now live in Harlem, it's about a two hour trip to astoria -- but i'd do it for that bread. It's the best pita I've ever had.
Slashfood: So, take me through a typical day on your pizza diet - what would you eat, how much of it, etc.
VC: I tried to limit myself to six slices per day. When I worked in soho, I had all sorts of options. Breakfast -- sometimes leftover pizza from the night before, but more often than not a smoothie (yogurt, mango, bananas, etc). Lunch: sullivan street bakery – best pizza in nyc! They have seasonal pies ... so the carciofi (artichoke) was in season during my diet - amazing. And also I like their pomodoro (red sauce, no cheese) pie. I'd usually have 2-3 slices there. That's lunch. Dinner ... sometimes I'd return to Sullivan St. Bakery, sometimes I'd go to Demarco's on West Houston -- the pies there are almost exactly the same as Di Fara's in Brooklyn near Coney Island.
But if I didn't go out for dinner I'd go home and top a single piece of pita with sauce and whatever was in the fridge. Sometimes my wife would cook herself a normal meal and set aside some toppings for me to use on my pizza. Like steak, veggies, sausages, etc. I'd experiment at home. Pretty much anything worked. The key to the home pies was a good pizza stone. They came out of the oven really crisp and nice.
Slashfood: I used to work at the pasta factory next door to Sullivan Street, so I know their pizza very well - it's amazing, but the slices are relatively small, and cost about $2-4 each. I think people might think a pizza diet would be cost effective, but was it? How did it compare cost-wise with the way you eat otherwise?
VC: Oh man... I spent WAY more chasing pizza than I would have spent normally on food. For instance... the toughest part of the pizza diet was the week I spent in LA for the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Expo food sucks, and the pizzas there were pretty much like pastry (really fluffy, sugary crust, sugary sauce, lots of salt). So ... I got sick of it and blew $160 on pizza for myself at Spago. Two pies plus half a bottle of wine + tip.
Slashfood: What kind of pizza?
VC: I had an unremarkable chicken-and-other-crap pie -- too many ingredients destroyed the crust integrity and made it degrade more quickly (all pies have a halflife out of the oven--that's my theory). The other pie was awesome, though. Smoked salmon on top of a creamy cheese with caviar and dill and maybe some onions too. That was excellent: the ingredients were light and didn't destroy the crust, and the cheese formed an insulating barrier for the fish, so the salmon didn't overheat and was just the right consistency. Really nice. I can replicate that pie at home on top of Astoria pita bread pretty easily, though.
Slashfood: Did you face any other major challenges on the diet? Aside from getting sick of pizza?
VC: Well -- I completely blew my tolerance for average New York pizza. I can't stomach the by-the-slice places that you find on every corner. I became a huge pizza snob as a result of the diet.... it was important for my sanity. So the amount I was spending on GOOD pie became a bit of an issue. I did need to take fiber supplements... that was a difficulty... But I lost 20 lbs!
Slashfood: You made it through the 314 meals, right?
VC: Yeah -- made it through no problem. The diet ended on July 5th. So I had to pass up lots of 4th of July picnics.
Slashfood: Why do you think you lost weight on the diet? Was it because it forced you to be creative? Portions? Sullivan Street no-cheese Pomodoro?
VC: Pure portion control. I was just determined not to pig out. I went around hungry most of the time, actually... which is really strange for me. I'm a huge foodie and love love love to eat. I just had a good sense of appropriate portions and forced that on myself. I didn't want to lose $200 (the bet)...
Slashfood: Right. Although the $200 just about evens out the Spago bill. What did you spend the money on?
VC: Well ... the folks who lost the bet owe me a $200 meal in the city. I'll probably select Peter Luger's (my fav. non-pizza place). Meal-based bets are more fun.
Slashfood: So would you recommend a 3.5 month pizza diet?
VC: Well --- yes and no. If you're living in NYC, it's feasible. If you're in the rest of the country, where pizza is basically the big four (Papa John's, LIttle Ceasar's, Pizza Hut, Domino's) – no way in hell. That's not pizza. That's arterial suicide. I'm thinking of trying it again for an entire year so that I can finally write the book that I wanted to write when on the initial diet. It'll be a real mental test.
Slashfood: What did you miss the most from the rest of the food spectrum?
VC: I missed taking my ingredients without bread, basically. I got plenty of variety, but longed to bite into a great steak without also taking in a simultaneous bite of crust. Some foods just aren't best served with bread. They're too delicate or need to be served pure.
Slashfood: Okay, be honest: did you ever cheat?
VC: I was pretty good about it. I felt guilty even licking my fingers after cutting up ingredients to put on pizza. I had a total of maybe one tablespoon of ingredients that weren't served on pizza.
VC: The biggest accident was when I went to a movie where they were handing out free popcorn.I just automatically grabbed a bag and had put some in my mouth before I realized what had happened.
Slashfood: What was the high point of the diet, and what was the low point?
VC: Low point: 1 AM Manhattan, stopped by the only open deli in the K-town district after walking by lots of great-looking Korean restaurants. Ate the nastiest slice I've ever had in my entire life. The cheese was congealed, the broccoli kind of fermented. It was GROSS, and I had to pay $3.00 for it. Another low point: going to great steakhouses with work clients and so on and only being able to drink wine and water. Could not touch the steak.
High point: Spago, every visit to Sullivan St. bakery, visits to Una Pizza Napoletana, home creativity. But that's points, not point... I'd say Spago for the single defining zenith. Americans underestimate pizza and I blame the big four chains named above. Give pizza a chance. It's a cuisine, not a single dish. It's got variety and breadth that will surprise you and delight you if you put some energy into seeking out creative and artisanal pizza. It doesn't have to have cheese or even tomato sauce on it. It's just an edible plate, really.
Slashfood: Just flat bread with topping...
VC: Baked in an oven!
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