Luke Smith doesn’t do ordinary pizza. The young pizzaiolo is creating his own style of pizza with wild fermented dough, high quality ingredients, and a scorching hot travelling oven. “I’ve always really enjoyed cooking, whether it’s for myself or for my family and friends,” Smith said. Now, the 25-year-old is using his passion for cooking to make artisanal pizzas for the people of Baja Arizona.
The young entrepreneur didn’t always plan to go into the pizza business. When he realized that architecture school wasn’t for him, Smith packed his bags left Tucson for Long Beach, California. After tasting some truly life-changing artisanal Neapolitan pizza, Smith got together with a likeminded friend, Scott Volpe, and decided to go into the pizza business. Together, Smith and Volpe bought a brick oven on Craigslist and began making artisan pizza on the go. They called themselves Fiamme Pizza Napoletana.
“We didn’t last long in California because there are a lot of wood-fired pizza vendors,” Smith said. The two returned to their hometown of Tucson, this time with a brick oven in tow. After establishing a local following for their artisanal pizza, Smith and Volpe parted ways. Luke’s Pizza emerged from the ashes.
Smith started his business the same way he starts his pizza—from scratch. Through trial and error, the former architecture student built his own brick pizza oven, mounted it on a custom trailer, and set out to redefine Tucson’s definition of good pizza. It took one year. One year for Smith to establish Luke’s Pizza. One year to create a dough made entirely from wild yeast. One year to break the pizza oven he built. Luckily, he had also built a following.
With a newly purchased brick oven, Smith continued to define his style of pizza. “It’s almost like a fusion between Neapolitan and New York Pizza,” he explained. At the base of it all is pizza dough made with wild fermented yeast. To say that Smith is passionate about wild fermentation would be an understatement. His eyes widened as he talked about Tartine Bread, local inspirations such as Don Guerra, Anyan Helminiak, and Chris Bianco, and the benefits of wild fermented dough. “I don’t use any synthetic yeast,” Smith said, “you can mix flour and water and a little bit of bacteria and get magic.” Thanks to the wild yeast, which breaks down the carbohydrates and gluten in the dough during the fermentation process, gluten-intolerant customers can often enjoy Smith’s pizza without any negative repercussions.
“Even though pizza isn’t a health food, I want to make it as healthy as possible,” Smith said, explaining why he chooses to use only wild fermented yeast in his pizza dough. He uses that same logic when choosing every other high quality ingredient that goes into his pizzas. He’s also sourcing locally: his 60 percent organic flour blend is partially comprised of wheat flour from BKW Farms in Marana. “I’m starting to source basil and greens from Merchant’s Garden … their basil is amazing,” Smith said.
As he solidifies his pizza style, Smith is breaking some rules. Unlike traditional Neapolitan pizza, Smith’s pizzas are cooked at a lower temperature (think 900 degrees) for about three minutes to create a crisper crust that isn’t soggy in the middle. He frequently uses local, seasonal produce, like bok choy, that you might not typically find on a pizza. Nonetheless, the Margherita remains Smith’s favorite pizza. “It’s just the perfect combination of flavors,” he said. “Less is more with artisanal pizza … it’s all about the crust.” You can find Smith slinging untraditional artisan pizzas outside of Baja Arizona breweries, at the Oro Valley Farmers’ Market, and at local wine events. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook.