The Story Behind Jimmy Kimmel and Pizza Legend Chris Bianco's Food-Fueled Friendship
The late-night host sought out the chef for his highly-praised pizza and ended up with a lifelong friendship.
“My parents live in Phoenix,” says the host of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, who read that it had been named the best pizza in America by The New York Times in 2004. “I told my dad, ‘When I’m there, we have to go.’ The first year we called and they were closed for Christmas. The next year they were closed again. Then the third year my dad went in there and talked to Chris—and I made a point to be in Arizona when he was open.”
When the two finally connected, “it was like I knew Jimmy for a hundred years,” the chef, 55, who will release his first cookbook, Bianco, on July 25, tells PEOPLE in the latest issue on newsstands now. “He was just one of those guys. We had a lot of similarities.” And for Kimmel, 49, the pizza, fresh out of the wood-burning oven, wasn’t what he expected. “It was better. I wouldn’t associate with him otherwise,” he laughs.
The pair became fast friends, connecting over their similar New York upbringings and mutual love for the Mets and Gulden’s mustard. “You know a lot by a man’s mustard,” says Bianco.
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In 2008 Kimmel persuaded Bianco (or as Kimmel’s daughter Jane, 3, calls him, Chris Beyoncé) to appear on his show and teach the world how to make the food that won him a James Beard Award. “I’ve learned a lot from him,” says Kimmel, a pizza aficionado in his own right. “One thing is to appreciate simplicity.”
Though a long battle with asthma recently forced Bianco to spend less time in front of the oven (the father of two used to make every pizza served at the restaurant), now he has more time to go fly fishing with Kimmel and their chef buddies like Adam Perry Lang. “Chris is one of the funniest guys I know—he’s a goofball,” says Kimmel. “He says the F-word more than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Their close friendship—Kimmel was the best man at Bianco’s wedding in 2013—has also brought the restaurateur attention from critics, diners and celebrities alike. “Aziz Ansari sent me an e-mail, asking me to teach him how to make his pizza,” says Kimmel. “I was like, ‘You’re going to have to wait for the cookbook.’”
Chris Bianco’s Tomato Sauce Recipe
1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. fine sea salt
5 fresh basil leaves, torn and bruised
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes. Remove and discard any tomato skins or cores. Mixture should be textured but silky. Add additional salt, if desired, to taste. Let stand 1 hour before using.
Makes: About 3 cups
Active time: 5 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Chris Bianco’s Pizza Dough Recipe
2 cups warm water (75°-80°)
1 (¼-oz.) envelope active dry yeast
5½ cups bread flour or other high-protein flour, plus more for dusting
2 tsp. fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil, for greasing bowl
1. Combine warm water and yeast in a large bowl. Stir once just to combine, and let stand 5 minutes. Add 3 cups flour, and stir until smooth. Let rest 10 minutes. Gradually add 2 cups flour; stir just until combined. Stir in salt, then let rest another 10 minutes. Add remaining ½ cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary to make dough just pull away from the bowl. (Dough should still be sticky.)
2. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Using one hand, pull dough toward you while pushing it away with your other hand. Stretch dough out, and fold it back onto itself. Repeat until dough is softer and easier to stretch, 10 to 15 minutes. Knead until smooth, stretchy, soft and a little tacky, about 10 minutes.
3. Shape dough into a ball, and place in a lightly greased bowl, rolling dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place until dough doubles in size, about 2½ hours.
4. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface; cut into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and dust with flour. Cover balls separately with plastic wrap; let stand in a warm place until dough balls double in size, 1 hour.
5. Place oven rack in lower third of oven; place a pizza stone on rack. Preheat oven to its maximum heat.
6. Remove plastic wrap from 1 dough ball. Hold 1 edge of ball with both hands, and carefully move your hands around the edge, like turning a wheel, to form a circle. Continue moving your hands around the edge, letting gravity pull the dough downward, until circle is about 10 inches in diameter.
7. Lay dough on a lightly floured baking sheet turned upside down. Gently shape dough into a circle. Top pizza as desired.
8. Without removing pizza stone from oven, gently shake dough onto stone. Bake until crust is crisp and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining 3 dough balls.
Choose Your Toppings
Spread tomato sauce over the dough. Top with fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sea salt and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Before serving, sprinkle with basil leaves.
MANCHEGO & PEACHES
Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the dough, then top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Manchego cheese and fresh thyme. Add thinly sliced serrano ham and sliced white peaches. Before serving, drizzle with more olive oil.
Spread tomato sauce over the dough. Top with thinly sliced garlic cloves, torn fresh basil leaves, dried oregano and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Before serving, drizzle with more olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and crushed red pepper.
For more on Kimmel and Bianco’s friendship, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now.