Pi's Chris Sommers Deep-Dishes on Cooking at the White House...and the Controversy

click to enlarge Pi's Chris Sommers Deep-Dishes on Cooking at the White House...and the Controversy
User "Wadester16," Wikimedia Commons
Chris Sommers, owner of the Delmar Loop pizza restaurant Pi (6144 Delmar Boulevard; Web site), will appear on Fox & Friends tomorrow morning to set the record straight on his visit to the White House to cook pizza for President Barack Obama. The interview should air around 6:30 a.m. local time.

The background, in case you just awoke from a coma: Obama raved about Pi's pizza when in town for his rally beneath the Arch in October of last year. Sommers, managing partner Ryan Mangialardo and Anne Schuermann went to Washington, D.C., last week to cook the restaurant's deep- and thin-crust pizzas in the White House kitchen for Obama, his family and staffers.

News of the trip prompted controversy -- or, more accurately, "controversy" -- after several Chicago pizzeria owners expressed dismay that the president would prefer deep-dish pizza from anywhere besides his hometown. In addition, Internet commenters, among numerous stupid criticisms, questioned whether taxpayer money paid for the trip or the pizza itself.

"You want to kind of respond to everything," Sommers told me when I called him this afternoon. "But at the same time you want to take the high road."

Sommers, who doesn't hide his support of Obama, hopes his appearance on Fox & Friends will afford him the opportunity to dispel what he terms "the pizza-gate crap."

But enough about "pizza-gate." How did things go at the White House?

click to enlarge The White House kitchen. - Shealah Craighead, Wikimedia Commons
Shealah Craighead, Wikimedia Commons
The White House kitchen.
"It was phenomenal," says Sommers. "They treated us like we were Thomas Keller. There's just not an ego in the place."

The Pi trio were given a tour of the White House grounds, including the new organic garden, before heading into the kitchen, which Sommers describes as "the cleanest I've ever seen -- outside of mine, of course."

The kitchen is small, however -- too small for the entire team to work together. Sommers and Schuermann prepared the deep-dish pies in the main kitchen, while Mangialardo made the thin-crust pizza in the pastry kitchen upstairs. The two kitchens are connected by a steep spiral staircase, which -- to give you some idea of how cramped the quarters are -- doubles as a storage area.

click to enlarge The Roosevelt Room, sans pizza. - Chuck Kennedy, Wikimedia Commons
Chuck Kennedy, Wikimedia Commons
The Roosevelt Room, sans pizza.
The pizza was served to Obama and, by Sommers count, about 50 staffers in the Roosevelt Room, which caused some concern as the greasy pizza boxes approached the untreated wood furniture. Sommers chuckles as he remembers the reaction: "Maybe we should put something under the pizza boxes."

"We were worried they were going to cancel this thing because of all the negative publicity," Sommers admits. Instead, the controversy went almost entirely unmentioned. According to Sommers, the only person to address it was someone from the White House communications office, who told Sommers, "I've been deflecting this story for two days, so I better get some pizza!"

Controversy aside, the publicity has been a boon to Pi, with diners enduring long waits for both lunch and dinner. "We've hired fifteen people in the last two days," reports Sommers. "We needed to hire for the patio season, but this blindsided us."

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