A Slice of Life: What Pizza Can Teach Us, According to Pizza God Dan Richer

For some, pizza is a means to an end — a late-night slice to satisfy, a convenient and uncomplicated meal delivered to your door. For Dan Richer, it’s alchemy. As the author of “The Joy of Pizza,” James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef finalist, 50 Top Pizza’s 2023 Pizza Maker of the Year runner-up, and owner of Razza, which was named Best Pizza in North America in 2019, and recently earned a spot on The New York Times’s “22 of the Best Pizza Places in the United States” list, Richer knows a little something about the power of the pie.

More than dough, sauce, and toppings, it’s the perfect blend of art and science. It’s a way to communicate, to bring people together. Plus, it’s freaking delicious, especially when enjoyed with a glass of wine like Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Sauvignon Blanc.

From celebrating local ingredients to pairing food and wine with abandon, Richer talked us through his recipe for success. So get your napkins and red pepper flakes ready.

It’s time to eat.

Skipping College Graduation for Italy

“The older I get, the longer the story is,” Richer says when asked how pizza came into his life. He grew up in New Jersey and worked as a busboy at an Italian-American restaurant. Bussing tables turned into waiting tables, and in college, he managed his first restaurant.

He studied agriculture and science at Rutgers, which, at the time, he couldn’t quite see a use for before transferring to a different major. When graduation day came, Richer was looking for adventure — he flew to Italy instead of walking across the stage. By the time he returned, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life: cook.

Keeping It Simple

“On that first trip to Italy, I was eating the most simple, basic dishes. We’re talking about a plate of gnocchi with tomato sauce. And it was a completely different dish in Florence than in Salerno, and I needed to know why,” he says.

Richer started experimenting in the kitchen to uncover this culinary mystery, which led him straight to the source: farmers markets. Thanks to his previous foray into agriculture and science, he was able to have a meaningful dialogue with producers.

“I could actually have an intelligent conversation with a farmer because of this [course of study] I never wanted, but I’m so glad I have it now,” he says.

Food: The Great Unifier

When he was 21, at the same time he was consecrating his passion for the culinary arts, Richer’s mother was terminally ill with cancer. “I was this man-boy, and I needed people around me,” he says. “It was through cooking that people came to me, so I never stopped.”

Six maxed-out credit cards and many small loans from friends and family later, Richer opened his own pizza restaurant. As always, he leaned into it, figuring things out along the way.

The result is a pizzeria that celebrates local ingredients and transforms moments of Richer’s life into pizzas he happily shares with whoever walks through the door.

The Secret Sauce

The secret sauce is not actually a sauce. Instead, it’s Richer’s philosophy. “I get massively inspired by very simple ingredients,” he says. “Yesterday, we got the first spring peas of the season. I always hated peas growing up — the frozen peas and the canned peas. But when you bite into a fresh pea, it just lights you up.”

Once he finds a hero ingredient, Richer practices restraint. The goal is to celebrate the fresh peas, for example, with one or two complementary elements. A few slices of guanciale, a squeeze of lemon, and that’s it.

The Key to Making Great Pizza Exceptional? Wine.

“One of my favorite things to do in life is to bake pizza outside on a perfect summer evening. On days like that, I’m always reaching for Sauvignon Blanc. It’s so crisp, it’s so light, so aromatic and refreshing,” he says.

There’s one bottle in particular that checks those boxes and more: Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc. With notes of citrus and lemongrass, this vibrant and refreshing wine shines on the palate. Crafted with grapes sourced from across California, each bottle offers complexity and nuance.

For Richer, summer equals Sauvignon Blanc — and zucchini pizza. When paired with a zucchini pie, all of the wine’s best attributes come out to play. “Wine pairings really truly elevate the [pizza] experience and create this moment of excitement and bliss,” Richer says. “You’re eating this thing, and then you take a sip of the perfect wine that complements it. It makes the food better, and the food makes the wine better, and it’s just a party.”

To make Coppola Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc’s culinary companion, he starts by thinly slicing the summer squash, and gently salting it before letting it rest overnight to draw out the moisture. It’s then layered with fresh, handmade mozzarella and ricotta. A dash of extra virgin olive oil and a final squeeze of lemon adds a brightness that expertly highlights the Sauvignon Blanc.

Pro Tip: Food and Wine Pairing

What’s the secret to creating a harmonious pizza-wine relationship? First of all, don’t be intimidated — there’s no right or wrong answer. “Drink what you like,” Richer says, “but really look at what you’re eating. Is it robust? Is it meat-based? If it’s a big heavy dish, you’re going to want a big red wine. The more delicate and light the food is, the more delicate and light the wine should be.” 

And don’t forget to learn as much as you can — try lots of wine and talk to the people you’re trying it with. “Every time you taste wine, that’s an opportunity to learn more,” Richer says.

What Pizza Can Teach Us

According to Richer, pizza is the perfect vessel for expression. “All the pizzas on the menu are a curation of my life,” he says. “Places I’ve been, people I’ve met, relationships I’ve developed, markets I’ve found. It’s the perfect platform for connecting with people.” 

Pizza is for everyone. Whether you make it by hand or stop for a slice at the spot down the street, there’s a lot we can learn from this humble creation. “My kids understand what I do for a living, my kids understand pizza,” Richer says. “So exposing them to all the things that pizza can teach us, it’s really amazing. Every step of the way, there’s something that we can learn.”

Love pizza and wine? Check out Coppola’s “Perfect Your Pizza” competition for more.

This article is sponsored by Francis Ford Coppola Winery.