Stephen Lanzalotta, the baker behind Slab pizza, dies at 63

Stephen Lanzalotta in front of the old Portland Public Market building in 2013, before he opened Slab Sicilian Street Food. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Stephen Lanzalotta was best known as a baker – in particular, the one behind the Sicilian-style pizza that gained traction when he was manager of the bakery at Micucci Grocery and became the basis for Portland’s Slab restaurant. .

But people who knew him well describe him as an artist.

Lanzalotta, 63, died on Saturday after years of battling cancer. Besides being a baker, he was carpenter, oil painter and author, as well as a father, entrepreneur and friend.

“Basically everything he touched turned to gold,” his daughter, Shaia Lanzalotta, said.

Emily Kingsbury, one of her business partners at Slab, said Lanzalotta was very private and didn’t want people to know about her health issues. When customers asked, Kingsbury would say he was out but would be back soon enough to make the dough. Even though he quit working at the restaurant four years ago, he still came in occasionally to make the dough, “just because he liked it,” she said.

Originally from Waterford, Connecticut, Lanzalotta moved to Maine with his then-wife and three children in 1991 to live near farmers and authors Helen and Scott Nearing. There he learned many skills, including woodworking and baking, and later opened his first bakery in Blue Hill. Around 2000, his family moved to Portland, where he lived forever.

Lanzalotta opened Sophia’s, a bakery on Market Street which also housed the Due Gallery – Italian for “two” – which exhibited his oil paintings and those of his friend Ian Factor. After its closure, it became the bakery manager at Micucci’s, where his Sicilian griddle pizza has developed its own clientele.

Lanzalotta preparing the pizza dough at Micucci in 2007. Doug Jones / Personal Photographer

Lanzalotta was fired in 2013 for what he described at the time as “exceeding my limits” by advocating raises and fuller work weeks for bakery assistants under my direction, and recommending job changes. store to improve traffic workflow.” A debate ensued over who could use his famous pizza recipe. That year he teams up with a group of Portland restaurateurs to create Slab Sicilian Street Food, where its recipes live.

“Our goal here at Slab is to carry on with his legacy and the food he made, and for us to continue to do so in his honor,” Kingsbury said.

She remembers the first time she saw Lanzalotta making pizza.

“He was so excited. He was always so excited, cooking and putting out food for people. And, you know, it was really exciting when we first opened up,” she said.

Susan LaVerdiere first met Lanzalotta in Slab’s kitchen the summer it opened, and they quickly became friends.

“He taught us the precision and the art of making the dough, and we spent many, many days learning the recipes,” LaVerdiere said. “He was very detail-oriented, very intense in his desire for authenticity in food, and it was a very fascinating learning process that way.”

When Slab first moved into Portland’s old public market building, Lanzalotta stunned co-workers with her intricate handwork, painting and sculpting a wall in the new space. He handled it with the same care and mastery as his dough.

“Everything he touched was an art form,” LaVerdiere said.

The leader was full of surprises, she said, recalling seeing him practice martial arts.

“He was doing very, very subtle, slow movements, I think it was Tai Chi, maybe, movements, and then he was punching or kicking, and I remember he had kicked the freezer,” LaVerdiere said. “It was so surprising because he was so graceful and gentle. He was a dancer.

Lanzalotta became a published author in 2006 when he wrote “The Diet Code,” a weight loss book in which he used mathematical principles to explain his healthy eating advice and philosophy.

“He was the only human I’ve ever known who truly embodied genius — like, his mind was so, so many levels of fascinating depths,” LaVerdiere said. “I’ve never met anyone else like him in my entire life.”

As good as he was at baking, woodworking and painting, his daughter said he was even more remarkable as a person, “the most genuine and genuine human being I have ever known,” said Shaia Lanzalotta. “If he could improve the world in a better way, he would try to do so with everyone he came in contact with.”

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