Jenny Olbrich’s Instagram handle is @ThePizzaGirlNYC. The title is simple, but also striking. In the name, you might confront the thought that the pizza industry, like the culinary one at large, is dominated by men. Olbrich’s work goes against that grain: she uplifts young girls via her pizza making classes, is open about her experience as a woman in the field, and, like some caped heroine, flies into the night on her bike, clocking miles and miles traversing much of the city each week to deliver the pies that she also prepares herself. Here, she discusses how she got her foot in the pizza world — and how COVID has turned it upside down.
Greenpointers: You have a unique backstory. Can you quickly sum up how you came to make a career out of pizza?
Jenny Olbrich: I was a Creative Director. My soul was getting crushed by office life, and I decided to buy a wood-fired oven and do renegade roadside pizza. In 2010 we opened up a summer pizza restaurant and café at the beach and I lived in a 13-foot trailer behind the shop with my dog. In 2017 we gave up the shop and I fell into being a personal chef, chef at Pinch, and in-house chef at Tuffet while doing pizza pop ups. When COVID hit, I lost all my jobs within a few days, I so started doing curbside pizza delivery and pickup at Tuffet.
You live in the nabe and are currently working out of Tuffet! How goes it?
I’ve lived in the neighborhood for about 18 years now. I love it! I make my all my pizza here in Greenpoint. Fridays I do bike delivery to Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and then I select a far-away area like the Lower East Side, Upper East Side, Queens, Park Slope, Gowanus, etc. On Saturdays I bring my pizza to Tuffet and do pickup or eat-in (we have a lovely backyard).
You’ve worked in Rhode Island and New York. Do you feel there’s a big difference in how pizza is prepared in each of these areas that have highly concentrated Italian neighborhoods?
Where there’s a difference in styles, the biggest difference in how dough is made. It’s dependent on the environment. My wood-fired dough, commercial oven dough, and my dough now are all different because of the temps they’re cooked in. At the beach I had to really watch the weather with the huge variations in moisture and salt content in the air. My current dough, which I call “banging dough for a shitty oven,” has a very low-hydration content to make up for the fact my oven barely reaches 500. As far as pizza style, I’m a thin crust lover but my current oven is terrible for it so I’ve come up with a hybrid square pizza.
You’ve mentioned that women in pizza tend to get overlooked. Can you discuss your experience in the industry and the importance of uplifting female chefs in this field?
My partner at my summer shop taught me everything I knew about pizza. He comes from pizza royalty basically. I studied dough and took our pizza to another level. When people wanted to nerd out with him he would say, “Talk to her. This is all her.” 99% of the time they would walk away. I hear things like this all the time. I’m lucky. I’ve always did my own thing and out of the trenches. I always encouraged everyone at my shop to learn how to make pizza. It’s why I love the private kids pizza classes. It’s mostly girls and they’re always in awe that I’m a “girl making pizza.” Sure, it’s just pizza, but it’s amazing to see these little girls gain confidence making their own pizza and see the pride in their finished product. They’ll remember that feeling and hopefully carry that through their lives.
You’ve done pizza pop-ups and personal cooking for big clients. What was that like, and do you hope to return to that lifestyle when we can?
I’ve cooked for some super fancy people. All were amazing. However it makes you realize that they’re people as well. We all shit and die in the end. Although I did fangirl, quietly, but hard over Steve Martin. He’s my idol! But I the pandemic has made me shift into thinking what I want to do and I still don’t know what it is. The industry as a whole has changed and will continue to morph. At the moment I’m loving that I can combine my love of pizza and bikes. So we’ll see!
How far have you travelled on your bike to deliver food? Any wacky stories?
My average delivery day is 15 miles. But I’ve had many 25+ mile days. I used to do ultra endurance mountain bike race so it’s like that just less miles and delicious. My biggest nemesis these days are bees! They seem to sting me in the face. Maybe because I’m sweet? I’ve had some amazing moments with delivery. My favorite was a guy who came to get his pizza without pants. He was on a Zoom call and forgot to put them back on. I get it, pre-pandemic I always forgot to put my pants on!
What else should we know about you and your work?
I love what I do. This whole pandemic thing brought me back to my pizza roots. I like that I’ve been serving as a psychologist of sorts. For a while I was the only person people would see, and so they want to talk. Work out the things that have been been swirling in their heads. I also like that I can spread the love and support local establishments like Emily’s Pork or Graham where I get all my meats, and Jerry is the bomb. I get my basil from the awesome vertical farm Square Roots over on Flushing. And my veggies from the farmers. Plus keeping it local, my pizzas are always fresh and pretty!