Mark Iacono & Scott Wiener Talk Universality Of Pizza, The Future Of Cult Web Series ‘Really Dough?’ (2023)

What about pizza makes it that rare food capable of transcending all boundaries? Is it really the simple equation of crust, sauce, and cheese...or is it more complex than that?

“People love to not just eat it, but talk about it [as well],” preeminent pizza scholar Scott Wiener tells me over Zoom. “It’s almost like you can shut down the MTA and that’s a big part of New York life, but if you shut down all the pizzerias, suddenly it’s like losing all the oxygen.”

The New Jersey native is the founder and operator of Scott’s Pizza Tours, a Manhattan-based operation that seeks to educate customers on the history and evolution of New York’s quintessential dish that began with Italian immigrants and ended up as an indelible part of the American diet.

“I grew up thinking pizza was this one thing: cheese, sauce, crust, greasy cheese — like the shredded mozzarella, that whole thing. And then first time I had a pizza that had fresh mozzarella on it with an uncooked tomato sauce and basil, I was like, ‘Wait…’ It was something different,” he continues. “Once the definition of that became broader and outside what I was familiar with, it just showed me how much I didn’t know, and it’s really exciting to learn things that you didn’t know.”

This fascination with a comestible we so often take for granted is now Wiener’s whole existence. In fact, he holds the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of pizza boxes anywhere on the planet. He’s got just over 1,600 and always on the lookout for more. Should you come across a pizza box from the 1990s that says “Viva la Pizza” on the front, give Scott a call — it’s his proverbial white whale.


Best Travel Insurance CompaniesByAmy DaniseEditor
Best Covid-19 Travel Insurance PlansByAmy DaniseEditor

“The more I learn about it, the more I realize I don’t know,” he says. “If it’s the hole that you can just keep on digging forever, that’s the best. I’m not a fan of putting together a jigsaw puzzle because alright, you’re done — now what? Break it apart and do it again? Who cares? With pizza, it’s a jigsaw puzzle that’s infinitely expanding.”

While pizza lore is always branching out, the process of making it stays the same (more or less). To paraphrase Ratatouille’s Chef Guesteau: “Anyone can make pizza!”

“You can get all the ingredients; it’s not like you’re trying to source some rare beef or something like that,” Wiener adds. “It’s like flour, yeast, salt, tomato, cheese — easier stuff to get. And so, all these other restaurants started doing pizza and it keeps people really happy, it gives people things to talk about. There’s so much press about ‘XYZ’ restaurants that started doing pizza and they’re gonna continue doing that, even when things get safer.”

He is, of course, referring to the COVID-19 health crisis, which dealt a devastating blow to the restaurant industry when the world first went into lockdown almost two years ago. Many businesses were forced to shutter their doors while pizza proved itself to be pandemic proof.

Mark Iacono, proprietor of Brooklyn’s Lucali (one of the most acclaimed pizzerias across New York’s five boroughs) discovered the durability of dough, sauce, and cheese when he organized a community kitchen where people could eat for free in the spring of 2020. “I made a bunch of pastas, salads, soups, and everyone that showed up wanted pizza,” he says with a laugh. “So we did away with the community kitchen and people were super supportive of Lucali.”

As of this writing, Iacono is gearing up for the grand opening of Baby Luc’s, a more traditional by-the-slice joint that’s about a five-minute trek from Lucali (which also has a second location down in Miami).

“I really don’t know the exact science of the pizza. I know what I like and that’s what I created. Somehow, I got lucky,” he explains, modestly waving off his reputation for attracting high-profile clientele like Beyonce, Jay-Z, David Beckham, Liv Tyler, and John Legend. “But Lucali was originally supposed to be a slice joint and it somehow morphed. The place morphed into what it is today and I always wanted to open up a slice joint, and that’s how Baby Luc’s came about ... I’ve been messing with everything from dough to different sauce recipes. I’ve tried every kind of cheese, every kind of flour 10 different ways, and I think I’m right there with the pie.”

There’s an old saying: “Cooking is an art, baking is a science.” The pizza-making process combines both principles, but at the end of the day, it’s more of an art than a hard science.

“It’s more technique than recipe,” Iacono says. “Proofing techniques, the cooking techniques. Every time I’m [using] a different oven, I’m always tweaking the recipe. Ir I try not to tweak the recipe [and] try to adjust to the oven. I was in Naples [the birthplace of pizza] cooking with one guy … his recipe, his dough, his sauce, his cheese, his oven — and I pulled out a totally different pie just in the cooking technique ... There’s a lot more that goes into what you’re trying to achieve other than the water, flour, and yeast.”

Whenever Mark has a deep-cut pizza query, he puts in a call to his good friend, Scott Wiener. “There are so many different products out there,” Iacono continues. “So many different flours and you get so many different results. Who’s more well-versed than Scott when it comes to that?”

“The trick is knowing how to handle it ... I learned that the history and the science of it are what make the difference between Pizza A and Pizza B,” Wiener adds. “But that history and that science is not one-dimensional. Those are like four-dimensional processes.”

The two first met over a decade ago by way of the latter’s non-profit, Slice Out Hunger, whose annual “Pizza Across America” drive is set to commence this Wednesday (Feb. 9, aka National Pizza Day) with pizzerias delivering food to shelters and soup kitchens across the country.

“We [also] do this dollar pizza party every year, where we invite all these great pizzerias around New York City and they donate pizzas and then we sell them for a dollar per slice,” Wiener says. “Then all the money gets matched by sponsors and that money goes to a local hunger relief organization.”

Since its inception in 2009, Slice Out Hunger has grown from a yearly event into a nationwide organization that’s raised over $1 million in hunger relief. In addition to giving tours and online pizza-making classes against the ever-shifting backdrop of COVID, Wiener also spends his days securing funds for the non-profit.

“We have all these amazing ideas for job placement programs for people to work at pizzerias, so that we can really help the hunger situation before it becomes a problem for people,” he reveals. “Job placement is the best way to alleviate food insecurity; to get people working and able to manage themselves. So that’s the biggest thing.”

Mark and Scott have been thick as thieves for the last 12 years or so, enjoying a hilarious, yet genuine, odd couple relationship that ultimately captured the attention of food and travel website Thrillist. The result was Really Dough?, a web series in which the duo try out different concoctions claiming to occupy the status of pizza. Mark is portrayed as the pizza hardliner with a strict set of rules, while Scott attempts to convince the Lucali owner to broaden his narrow definition of the iconic dish.

The Webby Award-nominated show ran for a total of 26 episodes across three seasons between 2018 and 2019. Nowadays, it has a sizable cult following, with many fans (this writer included) wondering when a fourth season will be announced.

“We would just get an email one day that said, ‘Hey, do you wanna do some more shooting?’ And we just didn’t get another email,” Wiener admits. “We all have other things going on, so we haven’t been thinking about it too much. But I asked Mark the other day because people ask me on tours and Instagram almost every day.”

“They put Scott and I like two little elves on the shelf,” Iacono says. Hopefully, one day they’ll take us off and do the show again.”

The show’s success came down to the comedic rapport of its hosts and the unique exploration of eclectic restaurants and the colorful characters who run them. Interviewing Mark and Scott at the same time becomes a mini-episode of Really Dough? in and of itself with the two constantly ribbing each other like a pair of brothers.

“We both love it. We had such a blast. It was so funny and weird,” Wiener says. “It was just us interacting about pizza. Even when they were not shooting, that’s exactly what was happening. Our conversations were exactly [the same]. I always have to tell people, ‘It was not scripted.’ They would kind of tell us what was gonna happen or what to do, but really, these weird things would happen. Mark would say some of the funniest things I’ve ever heard in my life and I’m just so glad it was caught on camera.”

If Really Dough? were to return, however, the dynamic pizza duo has a few notes on where to take it. “It would have to be some type of world tour. We’d have to go to some really crazy places,” states Iacono, citing Norway and Japan as examples.

When asked if he’s developed any new pizza rules in the interim, he answers: “I’ve been messing around with a few things. I’ve come out of the box, but just stuff I play around with. I haven’t put anything out there yet.”

Wiener, on the other hand, calls for the return of editor Chris Murphy (now working freelance), whose post-production work gave the series its voice. “He would have to be involved because he made that show. Otherwise, it’s just us messing around.”

“Scott and Mark had such incredible chemistry and we were able to make the show a dramatic narrative as much as a food showcase,” Murphy tells me over email. “I think that's what made the audience return: even if you're not particularly interested in whatever this week's bizarre pizza is, you want to see how Mark and Scott will react to it (and each other). The creator, Justin Lundstrom, pushed me and the rest of the edit, graphics, and production teams to go for a ‘cinematic’ feel and ultimately, it turned the show into a bizarre pizza soap opera. That gave it audience retention that a lot of the viral-trend-chasing Youtube shows dream of. It also made it fun.”

Our conversation winds down with Scott and Mark — two pizza gods among men — recommending their favorite slices of the moment.

“Lately, I’ve been really in love with Luigi’s on 5th Avenue and 21st Street and also L’industrie on on South 2nd and Havemeyer — both in Brooklyn,” Wiener concludes. “They kind of balance [each other]. They’re different, but they’re both slices, so those are my two loves at the moment. But it’s changing constantly. Scarr’s is great [too].”

“I’ll binge,” Icaono says. “I’ll go to one place or I’ll go there twice a week for like four weeks, five weeks and then I’m on to the next place, binging at their pizzeria for four, five weeks. I still gotta go with the square at Di Fara. That’s my favorite slice.”

All 26 episodes of Really Dough? are now streaming on YouTube.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Otha Schamberger

Last Updated: 03/29/2023

Views: 5761

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (55 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Otha Schamberger

Birthday: 1999-08-15

Address: Suite 490 606 Hammes Ferry, Carterhaven, IL 62290

Phone: +8557035444877

Job: Forward IT Agent

Hobby: Fishing, Flying, Jewelry making, Digital arts, Sand art, Parkour, tabletop games

Introduction: My name is Otha Schamberger, I am a vast, good, healthy, cheerful, energetic, gorgeous, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.