The Hand That Feeds You
CHEF JOSH WION
The dinner rush is roaring with the clatter of dishes and chatter of diners. An umber oven mosaicked with honeycomb tiles glows with coals and emanates a gentle, fragrant smoke. A tattooed arm slowly pulls a long-handled peel out of the flames, revealing a bubbling-hot pizza pie charred black around the edges. Uptown’s premiere pizzaiolo has just completed another mini-masterpiece.
The pizza kitchen is a common beginning for many future culinary professionals, but there are few individuals in Oklahoma City with as much specialized experience as Josh Wion. He has an impressive pizza pedigree, and if you have eaten out in Oklahoma City much in the last decade, chances are good you’ve eaten a pizza Wion had a hand in.
Before ever having any interest in cooking, Wion was working for a food distribution company, working in the warehouse and riding along in the truck making deliveries around town.
“When I lost that job, I just happened to live across the street from a guy who had just opened a pizzeria. I went over and talked to him and he got me a spot there. I didn’t have much interest in food before that, but it was really different from working in a warehouse.” That restaurant was the original iteration of Sauced in the Paseo, which has been a longtime hangout gem for punks, hippies, neighborhood folk, and their dogs.
“It was just a job, really. At the time, I was 21 and I just wanted to make enough money to party. It was a fun thing to do. It wasn’t a lot like work—it was like hanging out, getting to make the food. I had a lot of friends who worked there. It was really easy.”
After learning the basics at Sauced, Wion went to The Wedge and upped his pizza game. “That’s where the interest really sparked. Creating the food with fresh ingredients got me interested in taking the next step. It was more than assembly, it was creating something and being involved with what you’re doing.” From learning how to make the dough from scratch to using their wood-fired oven, Josh picked up a lot of skills that he would carry with him throughout his career.
When Picasso Café opened in the Paseo, Wion immediately went to work in their kitchen, and the culinary interest he picked up at the Wedge exploded. “Working with several chefs and all these creative people, I learned so much. I was there for almost five years and it was crazy, it was awesome.”
The talent in the kitchen at Picasso was inspirational, and opened up a realm of creative freedom. Josh was given a pizza special that changed out every week where he could experiment with topping combinations. To this day, even though he is long gone from the neighborhood mainstay, you will still find the ‘Weekly Wion’ on the menu.
When Big Truck Tacos owner Kathryn Mathis began work in 2013 converting a gutted-out rock club on Walker into what would become the elegant and casual Pizzeria Gusto, Picasso’s owner Sean Fiaccone set up a meeting with Mathis and Wion. Fiaccone recognized Josh’s potential, and knew this could be an incredible opportunity for him to advance.
Gusto was a return to wood-fired pizza for Wion, only without the gas regulators to control the heat utilized at The Wedge. The traditional Neapolitan brick oven made by world-renowned craftsman Stefano Ferrara is a beast to operate, but results in an amazing and authentic pie. Every detail is given careful attention, from the dough made with soft 00 flour to the San Marzano tomatoes used to make the sauce.
Despite the years Wion has spent working in some of the most respected pizza kitchens in Oklahoma City, he has no pretentions about what he likes to eat, and that includes stuffed crust. “I’m not that big of a pizza snob. A lot of times, I love to kick back and order Pizza Hut. I know it’s not artisanal or whatever, but it’s something I enjoy.”
When it comes to picking out the toppings, he doesn’t have much of a go-to order. “Pizza is just ingredients on bread. I’m a big fan of using a combination of fruits and nuts. I like candied pecans or walnuts, or doing something sweet and something spicy.”
It may be one of the greatest foods available, but man cannot live on pizza alone. Wion is always on the hunt for obscure and different experiences. “I love picking a new spot on my day off and checking it out. I way prefer that over going to the same spot over and over again. I like going to the southside and finding holes in the wall, just driving around, finding a place and stopping in.”
Even though he has been grinding away for years mastering the nuances of a particular variety of food, there is still work to be done. “I definitely wanna learn more styles. I want to continue to learn and absorb knowledge from other people. Pizza is where I started, and I’ve progressed from there. I’m still learning about pizza, but there’s a whole world out there to learn and experience.”