Caleb Schiff of Pizzicletta. Courtesy Awe Collective.

Flagstaff Food Boom: Chef Caleb Schiff of Pizzicletta

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Q&A Issue: November 2016
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Once known for its lumberjack college kids, good skiing and decent drinkin' scene, Flagstaff is quickly making a name for itself as a foodie town (and we're not just talking about the phenomenal pizza). To explore the burgeoning culinary scene up north, we're running a series of Q & A's with the personalities behind the chef hats behind the town's restaurant renaissance we're calling the "Flag Food Boom."

Today we're chatting with:

Caleb Schiff
203 W. Phoenix Ave., Flagstaff

Flagstaff's Pizzicletta. Courtesy Awe Collective.When Pizzicletta owner Caleb Schiff moved to Flagstaff 12 years ago to attend graduate school at Northern Arizona University, opening a restaurant wasn’t on his radar. He’d always enjoyed cooking and had worked at various bakeries throughout high school and college, but during grad school, Schiff took a couple of biking trips through Italy and discovered wood fired pizza. After one of his Italian adventures, Schiff returned to Flagstaff and built a wood fire oven in his backyard and cooked for friends. Seven years later, he ditched academia and opened Pizzicletta (a play on pizza and bicicletta, the Italian word for bicycle).

When did you open Pizzicletta?
We’ve been open 5 ½ years, since the summer of 2011. We’re on the south side of Flagstaff in a neighborhood that, five years ago, was uninhabited. People steered away from the area. The space is quite small, but it’s really good rent so it was something I thought I could take on. I wanted to do something very simple and really push the envelope of food in Flagstaff. Now there are a lot of great restaurants, but at the time Flagstaff was a food desert.

What’s your culinary background?
I didn’t go to business school or culinary school so this is a different endeavor for me. I actually think it’s a strength. There are definitely skills I don’t have that a lot of chefs do, but I didn’t have anyone or any school of thought to sidetrack me from what I wanted to do, which was elevate the food scene in Flagstaff, specifically with pizza. I’m a scientist and got my masters in geology. That gave me a lot of good skills in critical thinking.

Mmmm... pizza. Courtesy Awe Collective.How did you learn to make pizza?
I had to figure out how to do it myself, so all my recipes are trial and error. That’s one of the greatest ways to learn, to go out and try things. But this is full disclosure – our food now is so much better than it used to be. I wouldn’t want to serve that now. So I think because the food scene wasn’t so competitive five years ago, we sort of got a pass because there wasn’t a lot to compare us with in town. I feel like from day one, we’ve been well received and the timing of things worked well for me.

Why do you have such a small menu?
Everything has to be great. It’s small and you can’t have a dish that doesn’t deliver in some way, so keeping things very simple allows us to not overextend ourselves. Before we put something on the menu, we’ll work on it for a long time. We’re focusing on pizza and making sure that it’s consistent and it’s the best we can make it every night. The restaurant is 650 square feet that includes the kitchen and restroom. The space really dictates a lot of what we can do. We don’t have a lot of space.

What’s unique about your pizza?
All our dough is naturally leavened and we have a really long fermentation time. It creates a char and texture that I really like in pizza, which is softer and not crispy and more digestible. We make nearly everything in house, including our own mozzarella and burrata.