Ultra Vires


“I have eaten a lot of pizza.”

On the record with the Faculty’s resident pizza enthusiast

You may know him for his emails about free coffee in the law school, or perhaps for his conversational approach to teaching, but what you might not know about Associate Dean Christopher Essert is that he loves pizza—like, really loves it. Sure, he’s qualified to teach 1Ls funky words like in rem and in personam, but what exactly makes Associate Dean Essert qualified to share his thoughts about pizza? Ultra Vires sought to uncover the truth.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Ultra Vires (UV): You previously stated that you have “a lot of views about pizza.” Do you consider yourself to be a pizza connoisseur? 

Associate Dean Christopher Essert (CE): I mean, honestly, yes.

UV: Do you have any credentials to back up your expertise?

CE: I have eaten a lot of pizza.

UV: How has your life changed since becoming Ultra Vires famous with your 2018 feature article?

CE: It is easily the funniest thing that comes up when you Google me, so that’s a nice advantage.

UV: Looking back, where did your pizza obsession start?

CE: Definitely when I lived in New Haven in grad school, because—as mentioned in the earlier UV article—the pizza in New Haven is really good and really distinctive because of the kind of coal ovens they used to cook pizza there. And so that got me into noticing and learning about the different kinds of pizza cooked in different places and different styles more generally.

UV: Bon Appétit claims there are 32 different methods of making pizza—how many can you name?

CE: I have a hard time understanding how they decided what counts as a method of making pizza. I knew many of the methods in that video, but I don’t know if I would have identified them as separate methods, so I don’t really know how to count.

UV: You previously gave us tips for making pizza at home. Do you really make homemade pizza all the time, or do you also go for frozen pizza?

CE: It is all homemade. I usually make my own dough, using Serious Eats’ “Basic New York-Style Pizza Dough Recipe,” although during the early days of COVID I was (obviously?) using sourdough, with the Roberta’s sourdough recipe. Sometimes, if I am in a rush, I buy that fresh dough that some grocery stores make. The dough goes onto an oiled half sheet pan. I usually make my own sauce by quickly sautéing garlic and oregano and chili flakes in olive oil with crushed tomatoes or tomato passata and salt. And then I top it with a mixture of pizza mozzarella (that stuff that comes in balls) and fresh mozzarella, and, when it comes out of the oven (where it spent about 15 or 20 minutes at about 500 degrees), grated parmesan and basil.

UV: How has the pizza scene in Toronto evolved since your Pizza Hut days? 

CE: There was no pizza scene in Toronto in the early 1990s.

UV: What are your top picks for dine-in and take-out pizza in Toronto nowadays?

CE: I haven’t been doing much dining in lately, so I am not really up to date on it. Before COVID, I liked eating at Conzo’s, and I also ate on their sidewalk patio this summer, which was awesome, so that’s my pick. My top two take-out places at the moment are Conzo’s and Badiali, but my kids also really like Blondies, which is good and also very reliable, so we order from there a lot.

UV: Have you ever traveled abroad for pizza?

CE: Not specifically. I ate pizza in Naples, which I suppose would be the trip to take, a long time ago, before I was as obsessed with pizza as I am now. It was really good! But I don’t think it would be worth the trip.

UV: What is the weirdest pizza trend you’ve seen lately?

CE: I think everything about pizza made genuinely in the hopes of it being good to eat is awesome, so I would not want to use the word “weird” about any of it. One really cool and different thing that is happening in Toronto these days is incorporating some of the flavours and ingredients from all the different cultures here into pizza (this is part of a broader phenomenon that is one of the funnest things about food in Toronto). For instance, there is a place called Saints Island Pies that makes Detroit-style pizza with Filipino inspiration that I will try soon, and I know that there are a lot of other places doing equally great stuff along those lines.

UV: If you could only eat one type of pizza for the rest of your life, what kind would it be? 

CE: A classic American-style pepperoni pizza, made with a lot of love and attention to detail. This is what Conzo’s and Badiali really nail. I understand that this might seem like a basic kind of option, but I maintain that it is the ideal form of pizza.

UV: Do you eat the crust? 

CE: I’m sorry, but this is an absurd question. 

UV: Is pizza an open-faced sandwich? 

CE: What?

UV: What are your deepest, darkest secrets? 

Associate Dean Essert declined to comment

This or that:

  • Thin crust or thick crust? Thin
  • Detroit or Chicago-style? Detroit
  • White sauce or red sauce? Red
  • Pizza Hut or Pizza Pizza? Pizza Pizza
  • Chili oil or chili flakes? Hot honey
  • Stuffed crust: yes or no? Seriously?

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