Saturday afternoon's taping of "Secrets of Louisville Chefs Live" at Sullivan University's Kitchen Theater featured Louisville's most famous chef (this side of Col. Sanders anyway): Papa John Schnatter.
Usually the show is taped on Saturday mornings, but the time was changed to accommodate this special guest.Even with the later start time, I arrived early and didn’t hesitate to walk in to Kitchen Theater. The production crew, and hosts, Tim Laird, Brown-Forman’s chief entertaining officer, and, local weatherman, Kevin Harned, prepping for the day’s guest of honor.
Once the audience arrived, Harned sat amongst the crowd to draw cheers and smiles for his intros. Laird obviously loves his job and the benefits that come with it. With a personality that would make Santa himself seem subdued, the jovial and exuberant Laird drew the crowd into chants of “Papa's in the house" and "better ingredients, better”…well, you know the rest. It felt as if I were at a high school basketball game and Laird was holding a megaphone and lifting a pom-pom girl over his head.
Then came Papa himself. Winning over the crowd with his authentic humble and down-home conversation, he worked through the makings of the pizza that has built his empire (and helped build the University of Louisville's football stadium).
Appearing a little nervous and unassuming, the founder, CEO, and namesake of Papa John brought children from the crowd to help him toss dough, spread sauce and dress the pie, rewarding each with an autographed Hotwheels Camaro. (In case you haven't heard, Schnatter had to sell his prized Camaro to get his start in the biz, but in a much-publicized campaign, tracked it down and bought it back years later).
Now some inside information that, well, used to be a secret anyway: Papa John explained that one of the keys to the quality of his pizza is the sauce. It's made from fresh-packed California tomatoes that are harvested at their peak. Ninety percent of the sauce goes to pizza shops in New York City, 5 percent to ones Chicago and the rest to Papa John’s. And all of his restaurant's veggies are fresh and cut in each shop and the dough is made fresh on site, and that, he believes, makes all the difference. The garlic sauce and pepperoncini accompanying each pie cost the company $20 million annually, but it’s part of the reason that people love the pizza, and Schnatter believes it’s worth the expense.
The take-home lesson for all you pizza chefs out there: use fresh ingredients and don't skimp on them.
Thankfully after all that pizza talk, we ate. It seemed as if there were more pies than people. Delivery people brought in pizza after pizza for the crowd to enjoy, with Schnatter quietly going up to each of his employees and thanking them. And it was clear that Laird's enthusiasm for Papa John's pizza was not something he staged just for the camera.
This taping was my first "Secrets" event, and somehow, I believe that each will be a unique experience. I look forward to attending--and tasting--more. Secrets of Louisville Chefs airs Sundays at 5 p.m. and Wednesdays at noon.
Tune in to the CW network to see Papa John as well as Louisville’s best culinarians disclose what makes their food special and great.
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