A rule on air quality passed seven years earlier requires that some shops install air filters similar to those used in Italy
In a climate crusade, a group of woke bureaucrats wants to destroy New York City’s last coal- and wooden-fired pizzerias.
This is the lie that fuels the latest rightwing outrage, in a distorted version of a commonsense rule on air quality passed in New York City 7 years ago. The rule that will soon take effect requires a few pizzerias in New York City to reduce exhaust fumes which could harm their neighbors. They must use a small filter similar to those used at other New York City restaurant, and which has been used for years by Italian pizza shops.
Conservatives are determined to turn this into another “Pizza gate”.
Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports snarled, “Some liberal arts Ivy-League pink-haired liberal, who has never worked a day in the real-world, is trying to eliminate coal oven pizzerias from New York City.”
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This is complete nonsense. Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that it won’t have any impact on climate change. (New York’s regulation doesn’t mention climate change.
Scott LoBaido hurled pizza slices over the city hall gate in New York, launching a tirade at “woke” politicians. Mayor Eric Adams, who is vegan, said that LoBaido should “bring a vegan pie so we can sit and hear his side”.
It’s a show that has no basis in reality for New York City pizza enthusiasts. Scott Wiener, an expert on New York City’s pizza scene and historian, says that the legislation will not harm it, but many people are “resistant to facts”.
A report by the New York Post published on the weekend was full of inaccuracies. It claimed that the department of environmental protection “targeted” pizza shops using coal and wood to “reduce their carbon emissions” by as much as 75%.
A report quoted an unnamed restaurant owner who said that the air filters “would ruin the taste of pizza” and would “totally destroy the product”.
‘This is not legislation that will corrode the New York pizza scene,’ says a historian of the food. Photograph: Mark Peterson/Corbis/Getty Images
The Post’s article was misleading. The rule does not target pizza restaurants but was adopted in 2016 to update the city’s air quality control code, which applied to all commercial kitchens. The rule does not ask that restaurants reduce carbon emissions or combat the climate crisis. Instead, it asks them to reduce particulate matters – tiny particles which can cause serious health issues if inhaled. These include bronchitis and asthma as well as heart disease, cancer, and heart diseases.
The request to traditional oven pizza shops is very simple: Install an air filter into their chimneys so that cancer-causing dust does not blow into the homes of their neighbors. The city had originally requested that kitchens install this filter by 2020. However, due to the pandemic, the plan was postponed until this year. Many restaurants made the necessary changes years before the new rule was drafted.
Wiener says that the impact of the new technology has been minimal. “Pizzerias are mostly already adapting, and the majority of pizzerias who need them already have them installed, and nobody noticed.” It is not something that will make or break a pizza restaurant.
Outside of New York City however, conservatives have described the move as a pizza. Benny Johnson, a far-right media personality who runs a YouTube channel, declared that New York had “canceled pizza”, and added: “You are no longer allowed eat pizza.” The Colorado GOP congresswoman Lauren Boebert also claimed incorrectly that “the majority” of NYC’s famous pizza joints use decades-old brick-ovens.
New York City’s pizzas include many different types of pizzas, including wood- and coal-fired ones. Wiener says that coal and wood fires are able to bake pizzas quickly and at high temperatures. This creates a crisp exterior and a softer interior. Coal and wood fires do not work for thicker styles, like Sicilian Pizza, which is also popular in New York.
The machine is sold by a family business called Smoki USA, which imports it from Italy, where it was invented decades ago. Photograph: Smoki USA, Inc
The air cleaners are what may allow these ovens to continue operating.
Roberto Caporuscio is an internationally recognized pizza cook raised in Italy who runs Keste in Lower Manhattan. He believes that he was the very first person in New York City in 2009 to install an air purifier. He says that before, “everyone complained about the fumes from his chimney all the time”, and a constant stream of health inspectors would come to his door. He says that as soon as the air cleaner was installed, “there was no more problem”. It’s an incredible machine.
Paulie Gee of Brooklyn’s eponymous pizza restaurant installed the same machine for his customers in 2020. He also noticed that it made them happier. He says, “I don’t want to appear as this greedy person who’s willingly willing to put all of the smoke into somebody’s home so that I can make my pizza.” “I would not be able live with myself if I knew they continued to have problems,” he says.
It is a metal box measuring about four by three feet. The machine, known as the Smoke Zapper 300, is sold by a small business in the United States called Smoki USA. They import it from Italy where it was created nearly 30 years ago. Peter de Jong is the CEO of Smoki and says that he is baffled by this backlash. “Literally thousands” of these units have been installed in Italy. “You can’t even have a wood-fired stove in most towns without one of these units,” says he.
Smoki’s executive in technical development, Connor De Jong, explains that the device’s design was “designed to be a non-obtrusive requirement for a pizza restaurant”. The device is placed near the opening of the chimney, capturing the exhaust from the pizza oven. The Zapper, which is a wet scrubber, forces smoke through high-pressure water nozzles. Connor explains that the particles “glom on” to the aerosolized and then drop into a tank of water which is drained. The vapor is then cooled down and released into the air.
Smoke Zappers not only make your neighbors happier, but they also produce a steady airflow in the chimney. Even the best chefs struggle to achieve the perfect draft in a coal or wood-fired stove. The Smoke Zapper, however, pulls air in at a constant rate of 300 to 400 cubic foot per minute. This is ideal for baking pizza according to the De Jongs. Caprocuscio, one of the chefs who agrees with this statement: “The water creates a natural flow.” Paulie Gee says, “It is better.” You’re guaranteed to get drafted.
Pizza customers wait in line in New York in the 1950s. Photograph: Mondadori/Getty Images
Smoke Zapper 300 costs around $20,000, including installation. They are smaller and cheaper than air cleaners used in commercial kitchens that use expensive electrostatic filters. It’s still better than closing. Connor says that he has helped many restaurants across the country who were about to close down due to neighborhood complaints. They installed our unit and they remain in business.
Gee believes the city can do more to subsidise the cost of these units. Final negotiations are ongoing between restaurants and the Department of Environmental Protection. Mayor Adams took a more moderate tone when he said on Monday, “We do not want to harm businesses in the city or the environment.” Let’s try to find the solution we are looking for.
The biggest question remains. Can air filters change the taste of pizza?
All the experts and chefs I interviewed for this article agreed: an air cleaner attached to the exhaust system of an oven could not affect the taste of pizza. Connor calls it an “absurd idea”. “That would be like saying that you could taste the brand of kitchen fan at the end of a stack in your spaghetti. It’s just not logical.
It’s also a myth that wood or coal adds flavor to pizza. Wiener says that if you eat pizza in a wood-fired restaurant, you can smell the fire through your nose. If you bake the same pizza for 60 seconds outside, it will not taste like wood. “Unlike barbecue which takes eight to twelve hours, low and slow in the smoke.”
But I still had to check it out. I walked into my local wood-fired pizza shop, the type that was supposedly “canceled”. The shop was packed with happy customers, and the air was clean. As always, my pie was topped with a beautiful char. Before taking a bite, I checked to see if any leftist officials were watching me. (There weren’t.) It may surprise you, but the pizza was delicious.