What do a Michelin-starred greenmarket-focused chef and two of the most influential bakers in New York City do to celebrate 25 years of friendship? Eat pizza, of course.
“Here’s how chefs are friends,” says Bill Telepan, a man so rooted in the Upper West Side that he calls 74th street “downtown.” “We eat at each other’s places! Everyone knows about the cookies at Levain, but the pizza bread is awesome – it’s almost a secret for people in the know. I’ve been eating the pizza at Levain for 20 years, and they’ve been eating my pizza here for 10, so it seemed like the obvious choice for a collaboration.”
Though Levain (167 West 74th Street; 212-874-6080) is famed for its line-out-the-door hockey-puck cookies, it was conceived as a bread bakery, and still turns a brisk trade in them. “Pam grew up baking, and I really found my love for it at culinary school,” says Connie McDonald, who along with partner Pam Weekes, is the founder and baking brains behind Levain. “We always loved how pizza lets you spotlight seasonal ingredients. At first, they were a private treat for us and our friends, but eventually, we put them on the menu, and people seem to really like them. All these years later, they’re still there.”
“I had the idea for us to do a pizza together, with the profits going to a charity I care deeply about, Wellness in Schools,” says Telepan. “The topping is my wife’s favorite, with smoked bacon, jalapeños, mozzarella and parmesan. I pitched it to Pam and Connie and they were’ up for it straight away. “
The pizza, on a soft pillowy flatbread, will be sold on Wednesdays for the rest of this month at Levain, with the other half of proceeds going to the ASPCA. “We’ll see how it goes,” says Telepan. “I hope people really love it because it really is for a great cause. Wellness in Schools hires culinary graduates to go into cafeterias and work with the staff there to improve the healthiness of the food, and it hires coaches who work at recess to organize games that gets kids moving and engaged so they go back to their afternoons energized.”
It’s great to collaborate,” says McDonald. “We’ve been part of Bill’s benefits before, but having this at Levain is even more personal. We’ve loved going to eat at Telepan, and he comes into the bakery for cookies with his family all the time.”
“That’s the thing about being really rooted in your neighborhood,” says Telepan. “You have the chance to have these friendships that have a different character, because of shared experiences. There’s been a lot of change over the years, but it’s good both to be part of it, and to be a constant in it.”
“That’s the Upper West Side,” says McDonald. “When we opened in 1995 there was already an atmosphere of change. Lots of construction going on, including the new 72nd Street subway station. There are pros and cons to all of this, but when the porn store on Amsterdam finally moved a few years ago, everyone knew the changes were here to stay.”