in the Court decipheredWe’re breaking down all of the components, stories, and techniques behind the … well … dish of a restaurant we’re obsessed with right now.
“I’ve lived in a 10-mile bubble all my life,” says Chef Brandon Gray from his home in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. He begins to record the milestones of his life near his current place of residence. He is three blocks from his first high school. Two and a half miles from the high school he graduated from. Three miles from his parents’ home. “All I know is LA,” continues Gray. “I am LA and food is the best representation of me.”
Enter Brandoni pepperoni, Gray’s pizza pop-up that pays a cheese-coated tribute to his hometown, from the ingredients for the farmers market to the hip-hop-inspired west coast names. He started making pizzas for fun, mostly at the request of friends, but since opening orders to the public the pop-up has taken on a life of its own. Maybe that’s because of the branding (I try to say Brandoni Pepperoni without smiling), or maybe the dizzying magic you feel when you text the order and pick it up at Gray. But it’s definitely down to Gray’s technique, which has been honed after years of work in restaurant kitchens like Providence and Trois Mec. proud of Californian descent; and a little shot (do you recognize the song titles on the menu?). Here he explains everything that belongs to one of his best-selling pizzas: colors.
Like many legendary hip-hop tracks, this pizza dough is the product of collaboration. Gray hit out pandemic-era cooks and sourdough lovers for clues on how to perfect his dough. The current iteration consists of two Italian flours – very fine Tipo 00 and stone buratto – and a local flour, Rouge de Bordeaux from the traditional grain farm Tehachapi grain projectfor additional wheat flavor. After the flours are mixed with water and yeast, the dough is slowly fermented for 24 hours. The result is a pizza crust with just the right amount of chew and crackle.
Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes are cooked for hours with dried oregano and thyme Kandarian Organic Farms in San Luis Obispo; “The World’s Best Garlic” from Milliken Family Farms in Santa Barbara; and instead of the usual paprika flakes, Thai chili powder. “It adds a unique flavor and a smoky atmosphere,” explains Gray. “I’m against the grain.”
Coleman Family Farms in Carpinteria provides about 70 percent of the produce for Brandoni Pepperoni, but Gray has a thing for the farm’s extra leafy broccolini. “You never see broccolini with leaves – some farmers tear them off – but Coleman keeps them and I love them,” he says. “They are as crispy as French fries in the oven and have an earthy taste.”
This is not your classic Italian sausage. “This is my take on Jimmy Dean’s breakfast sausage,” says Gray. “I grew up with it.” Maple syrup gives this garlic, fennel, and pork mix the same nostalgic sweetness. It also balances out the sausage’s triple heat dose: Kashmiri chili powder, smoked paprika, and more Thai chili powder.
Gray ventured across state lines for Great, the “crème de la crème” of mozzarella from Wisconsin.
The finishing touches
“Ten years ago, people put edible flowers on food to make them look pretty, but they didn’t serve any other purpose,” explains Gray. “But here they emphasize something.” The yellow broccolini flowers reflect the bitterness of the broccolini, while the fresh cucumber-like taste of the purple borage plays off this sharpness. A dash of garlic oil made by poaching on the finest Milliken Family Farm Buon Gusto farms Olive oil, finishes Colors, which is named after the famous Ice-T song. “It represents my personality,” says Gray. “When you eat this you say ‘Pow, Bang, Boom’.”