Even though Pizzafication Jaha opened over a year ago in Seoul’s Seochon, chef Suh Ki-won is still trying to achieve his idea of perfect pizza.
For Suh, the goal is not to create a transcendental Neopolitan or Roman or any specific regional type of pie per se.
While the roots of his style of pizza are planted in Italy’s Napoli, Suh sees pizza as the launching pad for a more personal form of gastronomical exploration.
The chef, who is trained in Italian cuisine and worked at Italian restaurants, seems to view pizza as a familiar and approachable edible conduit through which he can convey his culinary aesthetic.
On paper, it sounds complicated, but out of the oven it makes sense.
Suh’s pies emerge burnished to an oaky hue, leading one to suspect that he has used whole wheat flour in his dough, but to which he answers he only uses Italian Caputo 00 flour.
The color comes from how he bakes it.
“I want it to bake evenly,” Suh, 33, explained how he wants the crust to be crisp and brown from center to edge, partly to avoid getting a soggy center after the toppings have been added.
The resulting crust exhibits a sturdy heft, a crispness and elastic chew that is definitely as memorable as the toppings.
Suh’s primary source of inspiration for his pizza dough is the baguette.
“I am 80 percent there,” Suh said that he is very close to creating a dough that reminds him of the baguettes he enjoyed at his favorite bakery in France.
To achieve a baguette-like texture and flavor, Suh tried various techniques, including using a natural starter before deciding to stick to water, salt, flour and yeast and a lengthy 72-hour proof.
Suh explains how a three-day-long cold rise is used to achieve “that deep acidity and rich flavor.”
Good dough is the foundation, at Pizzafication Jaha, for an experimental range of toppings that draw inspiration from various regional specialties and cuisines.
Spanish Iberian ham is paired with figs and fresh mozzarella for one pie, while French Epoisses cheese is paired with braised spring onions in another one.
Italian smoked scamorza cheese and smoked housemade pork sausage are incorporated into yet another pizza on the menu.
“We also have a raclette pizza,” said owner Choi Hyun-min, 34, who explained how this pizza was introduced last year and will probably be back again in rotation this winter.
Suh explained how for the pizza, raclette cheese is layered over pureed potatoes and topped with brussel sprouts for what sounds like some serious rib-sticking fare.
For this winter, Suh is also thinking of finding a way to use the Alsatian choucroute garnie as inspiration for a pizza.
While Suh may come across as a maverick chef, he does not seem to be focused on breaking the mold so much as creating his idea of good food in pizza form.
Take Pizzafication Jaha’s tartufata pizza, less radical in concept then the raclette or forthcoming choucroute-inspired pies, this mushroom-centric creation really does the fall-friendly vegetable justice.
Slow-roasted shitake and oyster mushrooms pepper a chewy crust, which is liberally dotted with melt-in-your-mouth orbs of fresh mozzarella. The whole affair is finished with some white truffle oil, for a fragrant, gooey and rich pie.
Suh and team apply the same degree of gastronomic reflection to other dishes, like their vinegar-inflected ragu. The tart, vegetable-heavy variation on the classic Italian meat sauce is heaped over a tangle of spaghetti that has been coated in tomato-infused oil, Suh revealed.
“It has that fresh flavor, so people who really like it, like it,” said Choi.
Choi teamed up with college friend Suh to open Pizzafication Jaha in a renovated hanok near Gyeongbok Palace last autumn.
“I knew my friend cooked,” said Choi. “I saw his vision.”
135-5 Tongin-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Open noon to 3 p.m., 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 3 p.m., 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays
Pizzas cost 18,000 won to 32,000 won, salads and pasta cost 16,000 won to 24,000 won, beer costs 6,000 won to 12,000 won