San Francisco is famous for many things, but pizza isn’t usually one of them.
But for Richard Carver, it was a slice of wood-fired pizza in the West Coast city that changed his life. “It was one of those days,” the 38-year-old said. “It was a sunny day, we were out and about in San Francisco, and this pizza was just fantastic. I didn’t know where I would go about finding a pizza like that in Manchester.”
So Carver came back to Manchester and did something about it. Fast forward a few years, and his mobile wood-fired pizza oven business, Honest Crust, is one of the first permanent tenants in the newly refurbished Market House. He opens his new base this weekend.
The Neapolitan-style pizzas produced by Carver’s business – in which his brother and brother-in-law are also involved – have certainly won a loyal following from the Sunday market crowd, and indeed market supremo Nick Johnson considers them “the best pizzas outside of Italy”.
And for Carver, it really does all begin with the crust.
“Rather than worry about toppings, the first point for us to get right is the crust,” he says. “What we’re offering is a sourdough crust, all naturally leaven with no commercial yeast or anything.”
Forget sugar, oil or any other ingredient commonly found in a high-street pizza. Carver’s pizzas contain flour, salt, water – and precisely nothing else.
“Our dough takes a minimum of 36 hours between making and serving,” he adds. “You get a really light, good flavoured crust, and that’s what we want our pizzas to be known for.”
Below: Richard and his two-tonne, £8,000 wood-fired oven
That’s not to say he overlooks the toppings – he’s personally scoured small charcuterie and cheese suppliers across England and Wales to ensure that the toppings are right. “Everything is as good as we could get it.”
Carver, a father of four (all under five years old), learnt his trade at Michelin-starred hotel Northcote Manor in Lancashire before going on to teach catering at Manchester College, where his wife still works.
His post-San Franciscan career has been learned “on the fly”, he admits, but he’s evidently now an authority on the Neapolitan art of pizza cooking. Just one look at his £8,000 oven – all two tonnes of which was shipped direct from Napoli – will tell you that here is somebody who is taking no shortcuts.
It was lit for a good 10 days before it served its first pizzas to the public at last Sunday’s market, and such is its immense heat (450 degrees) that a completely raw pizza can be done to perfection inside 90 seconds.
Carver, who has been a stay-at-home dad with his kids during the week while working on setting up Honest Crust at the weekends, will be devoting six days a week to his new Altrincham Market venture now his four-year-olds have started school.
So why Altrincham, especially when that will involve a daily commute from his home in Ramsbottom? “We were sold on it – it was a no-brainer. We’ve had loads of good feedback and people coming back week after week, which is nice. This is probably the first place we’ve been somewhere regularly, and we feel confident coming in here that we’re going to do well.”
Below: Richard hard at work inside Market House