Get to Know a Chef: Sean Tanha, FBI Pizza
Co-owner of FBI Pizza, Sean Tanha, decided a while ago that it was time Torontonians had better delivery pizza. Now with locations in Etobicoke and Woodbridge, he's looking to up the game on what you get in a cardboard box. Here he reveals a new menu item, his favourite toppings, and the Iron Chef that inspired him to cook in the first place.
Why did you decide to get into the pizza making business?
My partner Rocco Mazzaferro's father used to own the Big Slice on Yonge Street. They were the original owners back in the 80s. We were working at Queen Margherita, and we wanted to branch out. Since we don't do take-out or delivery at Queen Margherita, we wanted to do a pizza that was really high quality, but something that would also last through delivery and take-out. Everybody's sick of eating nasty delivery pizza, and I didn't think there are many good options out there.
Who taught you how to make pizza?
I kind of learned from Rocco, his father, and other guys from Queen Margherita. I learned a lot from myself too, just through trying it. We tested and tried so many things before we opened.
Why do you love pizza so much?
It's the most popular food in the world. If you ask anybody what's their favourite food, it's often pizza. I think the majority of people's favourite food is some sort of Italian fare, whether it be pasta or pizza. I'm a fan of all Italian food.
What's the secret to a great pizza?
Honestly, you have to care. As good as our pizza can be — obviously, we use the highest quality ingredients, you know tomatoes imported from Italy; our dough is made from 00 flour — all of those things in combination with your love of making the pizza makes a difference. I can give our dough, our sauce and the mozzarella that we use to someone who doesn't have a passion for making pizza, and I don't think it would work. Obviously with the quality of ingredients it's going to taste good, but making the most amazing pizza really comes from inside too.
We roast our red peppers every day, we cut our mushrooms fresh everyday, and we even go to the Ontario Food Terminal on a daily basis and pick our produce. For the first 10 months I would wake up at 4am and do it all by myself.
What do you like on your pizza?
I really like anchovies. Anchovies, mushrooms, red onions; I probably eat that most commonly.
Is there a topping that should never be on a pizza?
I don't think there is. You can put anything on a pizza. Pizza is so versatile. If you go to an Italian pizzeria here, and they don't do pineapple and this or that, I don't buy into it. In Italy, there are places that sell pizza with hot dogs and french fries on them. I think pizza's one of those things in the world that people can do their own way.
Other than you, who makes the best pie in the city?
There's only one other place: Queen Margherita. Between us and Queen Margherita, I believe that we have the best product for our love for pizza and our quality of ingredients. They're completely different: Queen Margherita uses a wood-burning oven, and we use a stone deck electric oven, so we have to cook our pizzas for eight to ten minutes, while they do it in 90 seconds.
What are some of the challenges you face running a mainly delivery operation?
The main challenge is timing. Your regular customer is someone who's been ordering from a Pizza Nova or Pizza Pizza for the past 10 years, and they want to try something new and they don't mind to pay a few dollars more. So they call us, but they expect on a Friday night at 6pm that their pizza's only going to be 40 minutes. It's impossible for us to do that, just because of the way our pizza cooks and the time that we take to make it. The way we want it to look...we have a high set of standards. We try our best, but if it doesn't look perfect, it won't get sent out.
Any plans for a third location? Are you possibly looking to franchise?
Absolutely. We have plans for many more locations. My plan is to open a hundred of them. We've been approached by people who are interested in opening franchises. We know we want to expand, and that's our goal — to be a large company.
What's next for you as a chef and for the restaurant?
We're going to be introducing (in the spring) our style of chicken wings. We're going to use fresh chicken, and they're going to be the best chicken wings you can buy. That's why we don't introduce things right away; there's a lot of thought and time spent finding different ways to do new things. What's next for me is what I'm doing right now; I'm here all day and all night, and I dedicate myself to it.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Most underrated ingredient? Gorgonzola
Best culinary tool? Ladle
A chef that inspires you? Masaharu Morimoto
One dish you can't live without? Pizza? Pasta too...
Favourite Toronto restaurant? Harbor Sixty Steakhouse
What would people be surprised to find in your fridge? I love cold pizza
What's one food trend that needs to end? Who doesn't like food trends? They're fun.
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Photos by Morris Lum