Pizza has been the big culinary success story of the pandemic and raves for Toronto’s Descendant Pizza, commonly referred to as the BEST pizza in Canada, has seen unparalleled success.
Their secret? I sought to find it with my scheduled call with Chris Getchell, Descendant’s chef, founder and owner.
Put aside the brick cheese, artisan sausage, sherry vinegar and the like, Chris’s vulnerability disarmed me as he leaned in to grace, sharing with a stranger a glimpse of his personal challenge at a time when his business has never been better.
“Testing, testing, I am recording this,” I begin. “Let’s get started. So where are you right now?” I ask.
“I live in Markdale,” he replies. Markdale is a community in the heart of central Canada cattle country, population 1,216.
“It’s a couple hours north of Toronto. I go in a few times a week right now, kind of in the middle of changing my life. And yeah, just trying to figure out what my next steps are as we’re growing the business.”
“These last two years, I think many of us are at a crossroads,” I reply. “Are you open to discussing the challenges you’re facing? I was thinking we’d talk about pizza, but life may be a bit more interesting.“
“What kind of questions?”
“You said that you’re at a crossroads, making some different decisions and figuring out what’s next. I’d like you to expand on that if you can.”
“That’s a tough one without getting too personal. It might be best to stick to the pizza.” Chris pauses then continues. “I just had to get out of the city for a little while, you know, I’ve signed only a year lease just to see if it’s something that I’m interested in; it’s farmland, right. I, you know, I, had to make a change. The pizzeria’s running really well with the great managers we have down there now. We actually grew during the shutdown, by 20-25%. It was a lot of pressure. And, you know, everybody here’s kind of beat down by this whole pandemic, and the morale is different. Yeah, it’s just – I don’t even know where I’m going with this.”
“Yeah, that’s the point of the conversation.” I reply. “You have a long history in pizza from Pizzeria Libretto, and the Davenport Pizza House, which led to you creating Descendent. Tell me about what brought you to a culinary career and what’s behind your pizza calling?”
“I started cooking fairly late,” Chris responds. “I didn’t start cooking until I was in my early 30s. It was just something that I always loved. Here I was in between jobs, and one day the thought, I think I’d like to start working in restaurants and moved to Nova Scotia. I had a restaurant contact and one day I happened to bump into him, Chef Craig Flynn, and I just asked him if there was a chance that I could come in and work for free. He said, sure, and a week later something opened up and he offered me a job.”
“How do you define Detroit-style pizza and how have you made it your own?” I ask.
“It’s like a thicker, Sicilian style-like dough. That’s one of the characteristics in addition to the cheese, that is baked into steel rectangular pans which goes in a little bit deeper and allows the cheese to go edge-to-edge, caramelizing to the edges of the pan, making a crispier pizza all around; it’s just fresher and brighter,” he continues.
“If you look at some of our posts on Instagram, you can see we create everything for our pizzas from scratch. We roast our mushrooms and puree our garlic and use things like sherry
vinegar. There’s culinary technique applied to everything we do, and everything is made in-house.”
“Pizza has been the big success story of the pandemic, as you know,” I say. “In terms of your rolling with life’s punches, I find you very fortunate to have been able to to have been in that sweet spot where many restaurants haven’t been—your business is still in place while many restaurants have had to close or completely change their business model.”
“Yeah,” Chris says. “It’s a very, very sad thing to see. Places closing while we were doing really well almost felt bad at times. You know, I didn’t want that. At times it felt so bad and it really took us all a bit of patience and perspective…to be honest.”