Walk into Pizzeria Basta in Boulder, and it's not as if you've been transported to Italy. That's not chef Kelly Whitaker's style — not in the least bit. Rather, Whitaker is of the mentality that the best products for pizza-making purposes are right here in America. He's not using Caputo flour, and he's most certainly not importing cheese and tomatoes from Italy. Whitaker's pizzas are unique to Basta, and they're crafted using flour from San Francisco, and tomatoes from Robert Dinapoli in Los Gatos, CA. He only serves seven different pies, and no, they're not presented with Italian names. At Basta you'll find pizzas baring the names of Daisy, Sauce, Arugula, White, Cart-Driver, Peppers and Market. They're straightforward, and they're damn good — Eater's 15 Hottest Pizzerias good. For pizza week, Whitaker is serving a special market pie topped with shellfish panna, steamed mussels, shaved brussels sprouts, house-cured pancetta and fennel pollen. Don't miss it.
You've mentioned that you're not trying to recreate Italy at Basta. Tell us about that. Any place you go in Italy, they're using what's found in their region. That's why tourist go to Italy and find some of the best food they've ever found in their lives. It doesn't matter where it is in Italy, it just comes down to the fact that they're using the best ingredients from their region. There's a big push for farm-to-table and local, but the reality over there is that it's a lifestyle — that's what we do here. If you have integrity as a chef, you're using good ingredients. We don't have a chalkboard that lists all of our farms. We love the guys doing stuff like that, because it does bring attention and community support to those farms, but Basta is a place where you can walk in and we're not trying to sell you on anything — we're not trying to sell you on a Naples experience. Those places are great, but that's not us. There's no farm tours at Basta — we're not trying to take you on a journey. Just come in, sit down and let us feed you. Let us serve you a beverage and take care of you.
Describe why you're not just a pizza place. I wanted to create a place that wasn't just a pizzeria, because we're not in the heart of a city. If you're not in the city, you need to create a reason for people to come all the time. I'm interested in taking the best products available and delivering an experience that can't be recreated at home. That's what Basta is about — a blend of traditional and modern, simply presented. This is the food I like to eat. Some places serve good pizza, but then a salad falls short, or I can't order a dozen oysters. I like a place where I can order a marinara pizza, six oysters and a side of sauteed kale.
What makes your pizza different? Our focus at Basta is to understand dough. We make our dough from a 200-year-old culture we brought from Italy. We use the culture not to develop a sour dough pizza, but to build character. I really love Naples style pizza — that fork and knife soupiness — but it's not what I like to eat on a daily basis in America, nor do I think our diners want that. But there are certain elements of that style that we love, like the fact that everyone gets their own pizza. We keep our pizzas between 10 and 11 inches, and we use fresh mozzarella, but I like to be able to pick my pizza up — I like it crispy and chewy. We also use double zero flour from San Francisco and Utah. It's bar none better than any Italian flour. I'll put that in freaking writing to all those guys who keep buying flour because they think it's great that they're representing Italy. It's bullshit.
Since you've cooked around the world, who's pizza do you admire? I love eating pizza in New York and LA. When I was working at Providence in LA, Mozza opened up down the street. It's a different place — Nancy Silverton, geeking out on bread. It's cool because it is different, and that what I love about pizza — everyone has their own style. I love Motorino Pizza and Roberta's in New York as well.
Where did you learn your pizza style? I went to Italy for a year and half and started cooking in Michelin star kitchens when I came back. I worked with chef Paul Shoemaker in Malibu, and he's a phenomenal, very scientific chef. He and I went to town on what I thought was this traditional, love-passion cooking, and we started to really apply science to our dough. That's where we got Basta pizza. It's a balance of new and old that really sets us apart from a majority of pizza places.