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With all this recent talk about pizza and oven-building on the farm, Matt and I decided to take our talents to Manhattan and find some delicious slices made with local ingredients right here in the heart of the city. A few years ago at a charity event, we came across a restaurant owner/chef who was offering some unique pizza samples. After spending a few hours discussing just how good his pizza was, we asked the smiling chef where we could find his pizza joint. To our disbelief, this was only a sample of things to come. Chef Edward Sylvia owner of Cer té, one of New York's premier midtown lunch restaurants and catering companies, was plotting the opening of a life long dream...
a sustainable, locally sourced pizza restaurant, which is now open and thriving in midtown Manhattan (132 E56th St between Park and Lexington avenues). Chef Edward, or Chef as he is more commonly known, was kind enough to let us dive into his world for a few days and sit down with him to learn more about his mission, pizza and passion. Although a Long Island native, Chef spent a life-changing 18 months on a farm in Southern Illinois in his early teens. It was there, among a seemingly never-ending midwestern sea of commodified corn and soybean farms, that he found an oasis of beautifully diverse family farmland. Through his experience tending the land on that sustainable farm, Chef began to understand the difference between handcrafted and industrial foods. He knew that he loved cooking, but learning exactly where these foods come from and how they are supposed to taste opened his eyes to the wonders of sustainability and flavors of locally grown foods.
Transparency is the first word that jumps at you from the moment you walk into Pizza by Cer té. The kitchen and pizza ovens are in full view next to the clear glass case that displays the day's creations. Sustainability and natural flavor are two of the most important aspects and as you can see below there is more than just pizza here. A full menu including freshly made soups, sandwiches, desserts, breakfast treats and other foods, Pizza by Cer té has a little something for everyone's tastes. Before we got down to the business of food, Chef made sure we got a full understanding of the whole operation.
As the first LEED Gold pizza parlor, Chef Edward takes pride in his ability to not only reuse, but get the most out of his waste. Most of the walls are made of recycled wheat clippings, whereas the rest are covered in homegrown herbs such as all of the basil, thyme and marjoram used everyday. Rainwater is captured and used to water these plants, but unfortunately due to maintenance, we didn't get a chance to capture these plant walls for you...just another excuse for you to go and see/taste for yourself.
The takeout boxes, utensils, containers and cups are all made from 100% recycled materials. Not only that, but these "Greenboxes" are specially designed to be turned into plates and then another storage box for any leftovers...pretty clever stuff.
And let us not forget the reason we came here in the first place...Chef Edward's uncanny creativity in the kitchen. Keeping along with the goal of having no waste, Chef walked us through his tomato sauce-making process, which was quite interesting. As you can see below, all the sauce is 100% made right on the premises with fresh tomatoes, never canned.
Once the shipment of tomatoes comes in, the staff gets right to peeling the skins off and separating out the seeds. The skins will be dropped off at local farms for compost whereas the seeds will find a new home right here in the restaurant as a delicious tomato seed vinaigrette salad dressing/dip (strongly recommended). My mouth waters just thinking about this dressing, it's so fresh and so tasty.
Tomato seed vinaigrette
The peeled tomatoes will be used for the homemade tomato sauce, but no one said trying to run a sustainable and local restaurant would be easy. Throughout the summer, tomatoes are brought in from local farms in New Jersey, but in the winter when production comes to a halt, Chef is currently forced to bring tomatoes in from Florida. In order to counteract this, he is looking to either rent some greenhouse space nearby to grow his own tomatoes or begin jarring tomatoes and sauce next year that can last through the winter.
Onto the pizza...just like the tomato sauce, the flour has no additives and the dough is made daily right in the back. Chef also introduced me to Dominick, who is quite the host. All of the leftover dough is given to Dominick and blended together for the next day's fresh blend.
Once the dough and sauce are made, the fun truly begins. Although there are a number of great slices, I've chosen to highlight 3 in particular that stood out to me.
Caponata, Goat Cheese and Hot Pepper, Fresh Tomato Sauce and HOC
For you spicy lovers, like myself, this slice stands out head and shoulders above the rest. An incredible blend of creamy goat cheese with spicy peppers and mixed veggies that just come together so smoothly.
Meatballs, Spinach, Grana Padano, Lioni Mozzarella and Hot Pepper
For the meat lovers, a unique twist on the rarely seen meatball slice. The various Italian cheeses and tender meatballs make this unique Sicilian slice a must try (don't forget to insist on a corner...more crust).
Long Island Potato, Sharp Amish Cheddar, Shaved Corn and Scallions
Although I was hesitant at first, Chef said I had to try the Farmers pizza and I can honestly say I was shocked at how well everything tasted together. In the end, this was a clearcut winner for the lucky family members that joined me for a little taste test, the Farmers slice stood out and I've eagerly come back for more.
Although the three listed above are a must have, in my opinion, other winners are the spinach slice, Shroom slice and a great veggie twist on an all time favorite, the Buffalo Artichoke! For you traditionalists out there, please remember the extensive description on tomato sauce above and give the Margherita Cer té a shot.
They have specials every night 7 - 9pm: Any 2 slices for $5
Additionally, as I touched on earlier, Chef Edwards creativity doesn't just stop at pizza, he is always looking for new ways to use all the materials he has at his disposal. In order to reduce waste, every night Chef takes the sandwich breads (from Bread Alone) that are not eaten and turns them into light and crisp bread crumbs for various dishes at his two store front and catering locations. Lucky for me, the day I went to take these pictures at Pizza by Cer té, Chef was in the "lab" hard at work on his new rice balls! An all time Italian favorite.
When hanging out with Chef Edward you realize that this is not work for him, this is his life, this is his passion and with every bite you can taste the creativity and heart that goes into the planning and preparation. There is a thought given, not just to what is being eaten, but how it's going to be made and what is going to be leftover. Although we use the phrase often, there is no waste in his kitchen, only potential. It's not just about selling as much food as possible, but rather creating a relationship with his customers just as he does when he buys produce from local farmers. It's one thing to say you are providing a high quality product, but it's another to look your customer in the eye everyday and provide it. Chef Edward and Pizza by Cer té are making their best effort to provide an inovative and delicious way to serve pizza. We highly recommend both Pizza by cer té (132 E56th Street between Lexington and Park Avenues) and the original Cer té (55th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues) a more eclectic restaurant (Try the fresh soups, I can't stress this enough especially as the cold winter sets in!) and where it all began. Don't forget to say hello when you see him.
Pizza by Cer té
132 East 56th Street
New York City