6 Chefs Who Changed Pizza

By Molly Durham  |  September 25, 2013

Pizza hasn’t always been a favorite in the U.S. People brought the traditions from Italy, molding them to fit American tastes and introducing new traditions. From creating new renditions where ingredients are in totally new places, to figuring out how to freeze a good pizza and keep it fresh, these six chefs had a big impact on our pizza lives.

  • Gennaro Lombardi - opened first U.S. pizzeria
    Gennaro Lombardi moved to New York from Naples in 1895, and still has a large presence today. After he opened a grocery store on Spring Street in 1905, he began selling tomato pies at lunchtime to factory workers. Soon after, Lombardi’s was recognized as the first pizzeria in the United States by the Pizza Hall of Fame. The website for the pizzeria is even firstpizza.com, making their stance on the matter clear. Several spin-offs of Lombardi’s ensued, but they’ll always be considered the original American pizzeria.

  • Rudy Malnati - deep-dish creator
    Most people believe that deep-dish pizza was invented at Pizzeria Uno in 1943, when Ike Sewell opened the restaurant at the corner of Ohio & Wabash in Chicago's River North area. Rudy Malnati started out at Uno, and was the genius behind the deep-dish pie, taking his recipe with him when he left. His son Lou opened Lou Malnati’s much later in 1971, and pizza in Chicago was never the same. The inches-thick pie with a buttery crust and sauce on top is now one of Chicago’s most famous dishes.

  • Anthony Mangieri - created Neapolitan pizza renaissance with Una Pizza Napoletana
    You can find a great Neapolitan pizza in almost any city these days, but it wasn’t always like that. In 2005, Mangieri opened Una Pizza Napoletana in New York's East Village, where he created the thin, bubbly and wood-fired pizzas native to Naples. He closed it at the height of its popularity to move his operation to San Francisco. He’s rumored to return to New York in the near future, but the fact remains that played a large part in bringing this style to the U.S.

  • Wolfgang Puck - Gourmet pizza pioneer

    Whether you've dined at his restaurants or bought his products to eat at home, he's everywhere. When he started his empire as a chef in LA, some of his first signature dishes at Spago were haute pizzas topped with things like smoked salmon or baby lamb. Dishes like these put him on the map in the culinary world and introduced new, interesting pizza options to the U.S. Now you can find his fresh, hand-crafted pizzas all over at his restaurants and even in the frozen food aisle.

  • Chris Bianco - wood-fired pizza savant
    He's one of the most famous pizza names in the country, and that's all thanks to his Phoenix restaurant Pizzeria Bianco. Once he started crafting pizzas with care by his own hands, charred in a wood-fire oven and topped with fresh homemade mozzarella, he won over pretty much the whole country. The simple pies have won numerous awards, with his pizza considered among the best in the country by magazines, celebrities and of course locals.

  • Rose Totino - made some of the first frozen pizzas
    Rose Totino is often called the “Queen of Frozen Pizza.” Not a bad thing to be a ruler of, if you ask us. She developed the first pizza dough suitable for freezing then baking in Minnesota. She and her husband, Jim, owned a pizzeria where they sold pre-baked and ready-to-eat pizza at their take-out business. They started selling frozen pizzas with frozen dough purchased from Chicago, but Rose didn’t like it and eventually worked with Pillsbury (who they sold their business to, and Rose became Pillsbury’s first female corporate vice president) to create the perfect dough that was fried before freezing. This made it more resistant to the dangers of the freezing/thawing process. This concept came from the pizzas Rose’s mother had made, and resulted in a 1979 patent for the dough.