Portland food and the people who make it get even more TV attention this week, thanks to Netflix’s “Chef’s Table: Pizza.” The series, created by David Gelb (“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”), has been a Netflix staple since 2015, and in its latest edition, the focus is on pizza and six chefs who stand out for their skills.
One of the six episodes focuses on Sarah Minnick, whose distinctive pizzas with unconventional ingredients have helped make her Portland restaurant, Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, a home known nationally for its excellent pizza.
As you may recall, Lovely’s Fifty Fifty was one of the reasons Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya, authors of “Modernist Pizza,” claimed in a 2021 Bloomberg interview that Portland was America’s Best Pizza Place. That statement made headlines everywhere and inspired many frantic discussions about how the City of Roses could beat pizza capitals like New York City and Chicago.
As The Oregonian/OregonLive noted in 2021 in response to the uproar, Myhrvold and Migoya pointed to eight Portland pizzas to prove their point: Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, Ken’s Artisan Pizza, Scottie’s, Apizza Scholls, Red Sauce, Handsome, Sizzle Pie and Nostrana.
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So it’s no big surprise that the “Chef’s Table: Pizza” series includes Minnick and his original creations. Other featured chefs include Chris Bianco, of Phoenix, Arizona; Gabriele Bonci, from Rome, Italy; Ann Kim of Minneapolis, Minn.; Franco Pepe, from Caiazzo, Italy; and Yoshihiro Imai, from Kyoto, Japan.
As with some other recent examples of Portland food on TV, like Netflix’s “Street Food: USA” and Hulu’s “Eater’s Guide to the World,” veteran restaurant critic Karen Brooks appears in the episode “Chef’s Table :Pizza” by Minnick.
The episode opens with footage of Portland, including the Willamette River, Music Millennium, Jackpot Records, and Cup & Saucer (which closed in March 2022), with Brooks saying off-screen, “In Portland, we have the DIY and punk spirit running through our city. . People have the courageous spirit to be their own entrepreneurs. They launch their own coffee shops, food carts, and pizzerias. … What matters here is having something to say, and Sarah Minnick has a lot to say.”
The episode features witty footage, some in slow motion, of Minnick harvesting plants from her garden, meeting farmers, shopping at a farmers’ market, and dining outdoors at scenic locations, all set to subtle music and often filmed against changing skies, and fields of blooming flowers.
We also see Minnick talking about how she went from studying art in college to opening Lovely Hula Hands, a Portland restaurant that did well until economic conditions and what Minnick describes as people thinking of it as a special occasion conspired to make it financially infeasible to continue.
Minnick focused on opening Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, a family event where her sister is the hostess, her mother is the accountant, and Minnick’s daughter helps out as well. Conceived as a restaurant that offers pizza and ice cream, that’s where the Fifty Fifty concept comes in, the dining spot has become a place where Minnick has embraced innovative and seasonal flavors.
In the 45-minute episode, Minnick recalls how she taught herself how to make pizza dough (when she first started, she recalls, she came up with “a dry, sad dough”) and how her interest in using seasonal ingredients led her to create uncooked covered pizzas. with pepperoni and sausage, but with purslane, flowers, peaches and other unorthodox options.
As Brooks puts it, dressings like fenugreek, echinacea flowers and mustard greens “would be a war crime in a Jersey cutting shop.” Minnick says Brooks’s review of Lovely’s Fifty Fifty in Portland Monthly magazine helped attract more customers. And Brooks remembers going to the restaurant, taking a bite of pizza, and noticing that there was hardly any sauce or cheese, but instead there were “flavors you don’t associate with pizza: sour, floral, spiced and funk. It was lovely, it was idiosyncratic, it was what happens when you don’t care about New York pizza cred anymore, or Neapolitan purity, just happiness. And that’s a Portland pizza.”
Since this is a food show, there are several picturesque images of Lovely’s Fifty Fifty’s creations, such as a pizza topped with Yukon Gold potatoes and fenugreek greens; chamomile and walnut-popcorn toffee ice cream; vine leaf ice cream; a pizza topped with quinoa leaves and fermented tomatoes; another crowned with mixed flowers and cherry tomatoes; and another covered with amaranth leaves and grapes.
All six episodes of “Chef’s Table: Pizza” begin streaming Wednesday on Netflix.