Patxi Azpiroz, chef of Patxi's Pizza, on eating fried worms and pesto pizza proposals
This is part one of my interview with Patxi Azpiroz, exec chef/owner of Patxi's Pizza; part two of our conversation will run tomorrow.
Denver lays claim to an infinite number of pizza joints, but deep-dish Chicago-style pizzas, the kind that the Windy City goes crazy for at pie palaces like Lou Malnati's, Giodarno's and Gino's, are few and far between in the Mile High City.
But Patxi Azpiroz, executive chef and co-owner of Patxi's, which has locations in Cherry Creek and Englewood, is setting out to change that. "My first job was as a dishwasher at a pizza place called Zachary's in San Francisco," recalls Azpiroz, who opened his first eponymous pizza parlor in Palo Alto, California, in 2004. "I worked my way up from dishwasher all the way through to a senior manager and learned just about everything there was to know about pizza" -- including, he says, deep-dish. But he wanted to learn more, so after a dozen years with Zachary's -- and making, he admits, "a ton of money" -- he took the money and ran...to Chicago, where deep-dish pizza is sacred.
He had met his current business partner, Bill Freeman, right after high school, and the two stayed in touch. Both, admits Azpiroz, were enraptured by deep-dish pizza. "Bill and I wanted to evolve the concept at Zachary's, but the owners weren't interested, and we eventually figured out that we could do it ourselves -- and do it better," he remembers. The two twenty-somethings took off for Chicago to investigate the real deal, flying back and forth from San Francisco to check out what real Chicago-style pizza was all about. "I wanted to see how it was done firsthand, and while we were doing research, I realized that I could do the same pizzas in a new, elevated way," says Azpiroz.
He and Freeman began ironing out a business plan -- one that was environmentally sound, focused on fresh, high-quality ingredients and advocated hospitality. And then Azpiroz got to work. "I started baking pizzas at home in my small San Francisco apartment, and I did that nonstop for almost two years," he says, sheepishly admitting that he was baking six pizzas a day, six days a week. "I'd get up super-early, make dough and sauce, head over to Berkeley Bowl -- their produce section is like a football field -- to get my ingredients, come home and play with the doughs and make different sauces, and then we'd invite everyone I knew to come over and try the pizzas."