Chef Chat: Pizzino's Jim Zimmerman Builds His Pizzas on a Flour Foundation

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click to enlarge Jim Zimmerman of Pizzino. | Mabel Suen
Jim Zimmerman of Pizzino. | Mabel Suen

It's no surprise that Jim Zimmerman makes some mighty good pizza: The Pizzino (7600 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton; 314-240-5134) owner has baking in his blood. Zimmerman comes from a long line of Lithuanian bakers dating back over three centuries. His grandfather founded Cahokia Flour Company, a major player in the artisanal baking movement; Zimmerman worked there for decades.

See Also: Review: Pizzino Uses a Baker's Precision for Memorable Pies

Zimmerman believes this is the key to his success at Pizzino -- build a pie on a solid foundation, and it's bound to be good. But while his background in the flour business provides the substance for his pizzas, his time spent in Italy gives them soul. Zimmerman and his wife, an Italian expat, go on a yearly holiday to the Tuscan beach town Forte dei Marmi, which is where he was inspired to start cooking.

He began as a home cook, preparing the grilled style of pizzas that he know serves at Pizzino for friends and family. Eventually, Zimmerman left the flour business to pursue his passion for cooking full-time. He perfected his crust in culinary school and opened Pizzino shortly after.

Here, he shows off his baking prowess by featuring two very different types of crust -- thin and grilled, or thick like a focaccia. Whichever way you slice it though, he's making his ancestors proud.

Zimmerman took a break from manning the pizza oven to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food scene, his musical talents and his last meal on earth.

What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did? I really enjoy playing music and wish I had more time to get out and play as well as listen to other bands on the local scene.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I must have coffee and read the newspapers every morning or the day goes off track immediately. Reading the papers seems so archaic to our kids, but for me, there is something about the way a real newspaper delivers information about things you didn't know you didn't know that is still superior to reading news feeds online.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? The power to travel in time to see the future. I would love to know my family will always be well and happy and living in a world that is moving towards a more peaceful existence. It wouldn't be bad to come back with winning lottery numbers either.

What is the most positive trend in food, wine or cocktails that you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year? From a food perspective, it is wonderful to see so many restaurants moving to better-sized portions with higher quality, fresh ingredients. We have to get away from piling plates so high that it's hard to walk away from the table after eating. Drink-wise, I'm very happy to see more varieties of gin from U.S. producers. I really like Pinckney Bend's Handcrafted American and North Shore's No. 11.

Who is your St. Louis food crush? Ben Poremba [Elaia] has put together some amazing operations and has such a great instinct when it comes to what an ingredient can be used for and how it will meld with what surrounds it on the plate. He is also a great resource for someone like me who is just starting out and has been very generous with his time helping me get up and running.

Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene? Mike Randolph. He keeps reinventing his operation and each one seems better than the last. Publico is a fantastic addition to St. Louis dining and I can't wait to see what he does with the new Italian concept going into The Good Pie [Randolfi's]. I do like his pizza so am glad to hear it will stay on the menu.

See also: The Good Pie to Close; Mike Randolph Opening New Concept, Randolfi's

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Crawfish -- they are hard to eat and may not seem to be worth the trouble until you get to the meat and find it so delicious that you have to keep going through the process over and over.

If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis' culinary climate, what would you say? It really keeps surprising me how good the food scene in St. Louis has become. When I first started really traveling and getting to experience various cuisines, it was always disappointing to come home and not find food that stood up to what I had eaten while away. Today, that's not an issue, as St. Louis has become a town that offers great dining at all levels.

Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Peanut butter. I am not entirely sure why I have such a dislike for it, considering I like peanuts and peanut sauces, but peanut butter doesn't work for me.

What is your after-work hangout? At this point it's home. Boring, I know.

What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure? Dim sum. I can eat and incredible amount of dumplings and fried taro balls. And Lulu does it best.

What would be your last meal on earth? Spaghetti con Arselle at Bagno Bruno in Forte dei Marmi, Italy: tiny clam-like shellfish in a very simple but flavorful white sauce served on the beach. It is truly heaven.

Spaghetti con Arselle. | Compliments of Jim Zimmermsn
Spaghetti con Arselle. | Compliments of Jim Zimmermsn

Follow Cheryl Baehr on Twitter at @CherylABaehr. E-mail the author at [email protected].

About The Author

Cheryl Baehr

Cheryl Baehr is the dining editor and restaurant critic for the Riverfront Times and an international woman of mystery. Follow her on the socials at @cherylabaehr
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