Nestled in the bucolic environs of Magnolia, Queen Margherita makes some of the best pizza in the city. To celebrate its first ever Pizza Week, Eater asked pizzaiolo Devin Dukes about the craft of making thin crust pizza, and he was kind of enough to demonstrate the palate-dazzling salsiccia and seasonal asparagus pizzas.
Where did you start your restaurant career?
I started in Alaska at a Greek-owned pizzeria ten years ago, when I was 15. In Seattle, I worked for Chow Foods for 18 months, at Mio Posto and Coastal Kitchen. I joined Tutta Bella in their Columbia City store, then they sent me downtown as sous-chef. I've been at Queen Margherita for a year now.
Who was here before you?
They started with an Italian pizzaiolo, Dino. I replaced his replacement.
How was your Tutta Bella experience?
It was great. First of all, because of Joe (Fugere, the owner) and Brian (Gojics, the executive chef). They mentored me and taught me about VPN, and they made it possible for me to get private pizza-making lessons from the VPN chefs in Las Vegas.
The Vera Pizza Napolitana?
Yes, the thin-crust, wood-fired pizza of Naples. Made with fresh, local toppings.
What's your menu like here at Queen Margherita?
We have a baker's dozen on the permanent pizza menu, and couple of seasonal specials. Right now, it's asparagus, buffalo mozzarella, roasted garlic, and a bit of lemon zest to give it some zing.
What's more important? The crust or the topping?
Definitely the crust. In Naples, they do a pizza that's nothing but crust with a little olive oil, salt, herbs and spices.
How do you replicate that here?
A secret recipe! Actually, there's a detailed protocol you follow to create a true VPN pizza. The key is to proof the dough, not just a couple of hours but two to five days. It's best just before the yeast dies. The big bubbles in the dough give you the best results.
Do you do all traditional toppings?
We say we're “inspired by” Naples, but we're not slaves to tradition. In Naples, right now, they're putting hot dogs on pizza.
How do you see the market here?
Seattle's one of the best pizza markets in the country. You've got New York and Chicago, of course, and the Japanese are pizza fanatics. But in Seattle you have Tutta Bella and Via Tribunali and that thin-crust culture. As for Magnolia, it's a wonderful, supportive neighborhood. I like it better than Mt. Baker or South Lake Union; it's very community-driven.
How do you see yourself? What are the perks of being the pizzaiolo here?
I might have my own place in the future, but right now I get to make pizza every day! I make the dough, I nurture it. I create recipes and menus, I train and work with great teammates. The owner, Corino (Bonjrada), gives me creative control. Outside of work I spend a lot of time with other pizza chefs. It's impossible to be a pompous or conceited pizzaiolo.
What's your favorite pizza?
Plain Marinara. I just love the flavor.
What have you learned about pizza over the years?
Keep it simple, make it beautiful.
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