I’m not stupid or anything — I get it. I live in New York City, and there is amazing pizza living in approximately one million amazing pizza houses all around me. But in the same way I crave white T-shirts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and baseball, I find the perfect, consistent, and reliable nature of a DiGiorno pizza comforting. The smell, slightly sweet, is a topic that organically finds its way into my conversations at least once a month. The dough is highly entertaining if you turn on the oven light and watch it rise. The sauce and cheese ratio is just, like, science. And the taste is really, really good.
When you’re a BuzzFeed writer, sometimes you get to do cool things. And as luck would have it, the slightly sweet-smelling folks at DiGiorno invited me to tour their heavenly facilities. (Or maybe I forcefully asked/pathetically begged/humbly manifested the universe to send me there.) However it happened, at 7:45 a.m. a few weeks ago, I woke up in a hotel room in the Middle of Nowhere, Ohio, and was like “YES!!!!!!!”
I was like “YES!!!!!!” because we were going on a thrilling tour of truly errythang DiGiorno. I met famed BuzzFeed photographer Sarah Stone in the lobby of our hotel, and we headed to the Greatest Place on Earth*, where we were greeted by a friendly team of Pizza Lovers who asked us to wear very ugly hairnets and other food safety stuff. And that’s when the magic began.
After learning about the various ways in which DiGiorno listens to their customers (read: Some lucky humans actually get to come in and just EAT DIGIORNO ALL DAY), I got to glimpse the true taste bud professionals. I kid you not — I was led to a hallway and instructed to look through a one-way window at a conference room filled with people who eat DiGiorno for a living. These are not the aforementioned “lucky humans"; no, these people go through rigorous screening after screening until DiGiorno determines that their taste buds are worthy and capable of gauging “yum” from “nah.”
When I was invited to sit in one of their hallowed cubicles and rate a slice myself, I felt honored. When a little slot in front of me opened and a piece of pizza came through it, I was…startled. It was one of the more memorable moments of my pizza life.
While still reeling from my encounter with Pizza Gods, I was led into an even whackier corner of the DiGiorno Incredible-Smelling Pizza Paradise Central Building.* Legit: There were infrared screens, microchips, wires… We were truly in Willy Wonka territory at this point. It was all in the name of not-cold pizza. This is the room where a German scientist with the best accent I've heard in my life, with the help of a woman I instantly idolized named Hope (yes, I did mistakenly call her Joy), makes sure your pizzas will cook evenly. NO COLD SPOTS ALLOWED!
I’ve oft wondered what it would feel like to be on a reality show. And now I know. For the last leg of our tour, I was pitted against the other “influencers” who had been invited to DiGiorno’s Delicious Taste Factory of Wonder and Cheese and Other Toppings*, and we were tasked with making DiGiorno’s Next Great Pizza. I was paired with a chef I’d looked at as a hero ever since I heard his name at the beginning of the tour…a chef who, up to this point, I’d looked at as a hero purely because of his name. Yes, friends. That’s right. I’m talking about one…FORREST WALDO.
That’s his real name. He had at least two good jokes about his name, which he shared with me, and his friend and fellow chef informed me that he’d even reached out to the only other Forrest Waldo on Facebook, and that they’d chatted. God, I love his name. FORREST WALDO.
Me obsessing over the toppings for my pizza and strategically placing them with the legendary Forrest.
Anyway, they unleashed us upon the GINORMOUS and BEAUTIFUL DiGiorno kitchen, and Forrest showed me the damn ropes. I even learned how to toss dough, which I feel like is every person on Earth’s secret dream, right? I did well enough. And St. Louis’s own Chris Zelch came over to help. I like this person because we both grew up in the St. Louis area, and his last name is Zelch, and his family owned a business called Zelch Bakery. That is an awesome name for a bakery.
The toppings from which we were asked to choose.
I decided to make a sort of Greek pizza, and I named it after what I was told was the least-touristy island, Santorini. I didn’t really believe it had any fewer tourists on it than Mykonos, but I liked the name, so I went with it. My topping selection was painstaking and stressful, as was placing the actual toppings on the pizza. But I threw it into the blazing wood-fired oven and hoped for the best. And it was pretty good.
The actual fun came from talking to the chefs buzzing all around me. There was Forrest and his name, Chris Zelch and the fact that he actually studied bakery science in college, a woman who had been at DiGiorno for like 100 years and had the face of a 1950s Hollywood girl next door (I want your beauty regimen), the man whose job was once to be the foremost expert on Laffy Taffy, and the woman who ran the kitchen with an iron fist and who recently went on a trip to Nantucket with Forrest. JEALOUS!
Once our pizzas came out of the oven, we presented them to the group. Someone made a heart-shaped pizza, and another person snuck downstairs with her chef and found pears for hers. I would consider both of these things “cheating,” but we won’t get into that I’m over it it’s fine I loved my pizza there was feta cheese on it IDK if anyone else liked it but hey that’s not what matters or maybe it is actually but eh I can toss pizza dough now!!
Man, I’ll miss DiGiorno. You think I’m being sarcastic, but hey, I’m not. You can choose to believe me or not. Everyone warned me that once I saw how it was made, the magic would fall away from my favorite pie, much like when Cinderella’s dress disappeared at midnight, and she was back in rags and like, “Well, that was fun, but now these are just rats and not horses, and it’s weird.” But I’m happy to report, MIDNIGHT NEVER CAME!
I love it even more now. And I learned so much. Them are real ingredients, fellas, made by real bakers who really love crust, like us, the pizza people! SHOUT-OUT TO CRUST AND ALSO CRUST-LOVERS!
All in all, my dreams came true. The pizza was insane. The headquarters were mind-boggling. The kitchen was where I would like to spend the rest of my days. The chefs are now my best friends, whether they like it or not. And I am legit going to have a Four Cheese tonight and cry tears of joy while I watch the crust rise.
I'll leave you with this commercial featuring my GOOD FRIEND,Chris Zelch:
Go get a DiGiorno and hug it, why don't you? And revel in the crazy expertise that goes into the fantastic crust. Revel in it.
*Not the actual name of the DiGiorno Headquarters. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Photographs by Sarah Stone / © BuzzFeed.
This post is sponsored by DiGiorno.
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