Ask a Chef: How do I make a healthier pizza?

Ask a Chef: How do I make a healthier pizza?

In our Ask the Chef four-part series, each month, a new chef/food professional will answer important questions about incorporating fresh, real food into your everyday life. They will also emphasize how their food choices impact their own lives.

Today we hear from John Durning from Pizzeria Deville.

Can pizza still be good for you?

Pizza can certainly be made better for you than most places you’d buy it from. A healthy diet can include pizza in moderation and the less you process the ingredients, including the dough, the better it will be for you.

At my restaurant, we focus on the freshest, most local products we can source depending on the time of the year.

For instance, we agar our dough in the old world tradition without any sugar or oil in it.

Our sauce is made of canned Italian tomatoes, organic olive oil, kosher salt and cracked black pepper. That’s it.

Our mozzarella is antibiotic free and in most cases, organic. Supply issues sometimes arise that do not allow us to offer organic, but it is always hormone-free.

This approach is carried out throughout the entire menu.

How do you like to incorporate other fresh ingredients with your pizzas?  

Name it, we do it all the time. For Lent, we’re featuring a fresh clam pizza. During the summer we incorporate local farmer’s market produce and products throughout our menu. Because pizza is such a versatile food, it lends itself very easily to incorporating new, fresh ingredients.

Our produce is all fresh, as are our fruits for brunch service.

We source our meats very intentionally so that we can better understand where these products are coming from and how they were raised. Same goes for our cheeses. We grind all our meats in house, make salad dressings and sauces from scratch and source the kind of products that we would want to eat ourselves.

Why do you use fresh ingredients?

Because you can taste the difference and so can your customers. By using the very best ingredients we can source and executing on how we make them, we feel like we are in fact different than most of our competition.

Would you share a “healthier” pizza recipe?


Spring and summer pizzas lend themselves to healthier versions than what others might be serving in the pizza world.

Start with fresh dough you’ve made yourself, or you know the source who did.

Use the freshest ingredients you can find, but top your pizza sparingly. Less is more with Italian-style pizzas.

It is my contention that if you have great dough, you could top it with a great olive oil and herbs and have a totally satisfying meal. Conversely, if the dough is commercially-processed and full of ingredients you normally wouldn’t want to put in your body, you can top it with whatever you want and it still isn’t going to really taste that good or be that good for you.

Use great cheeses and use them sparingly. You’ll taste them in every bite without any of the excess fat that you don’t want and you’ll feel a lot better when you’re finished.

Oh, and eat it in moderation, though that applies to most foods.

This philosophy is applied all over traditional Italian cooking and many other countries around the Mediterranean.

Example recipe:

Roll out a dough ball into a thin 12″ disc. Drizzle olive oil on it and a light sprinkle of freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Top it with fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and season with salt and pepper. Add some if your favorite cheese on top, and be careful not to put too much of anything on the pizza.

Bake on a stone in your oven after preheating the oven/stone for 45 minutes at 500 degrees, or higher if your oven goes that high.

Turn the pizza once to ensure even cooking and pull out once the cheese has melted and crust has risen and browned.

When you take the pizza out of the oven, sprinkle freshly chopped basil on top and dig in.

Light, fresh and delicious.


Advocate Condell Medical Center and Food Revolution Super Ambassador Lindsey Shifley will host an evening of cooking demonstrations and tips shared by a dynamic group of chefs, including John Durning, on May 8, 2017 at Condell Cooks for Life, a pop-up cooking school event. A variety of Jamie Oliver’s “Cook for your Life” recipes will be demonstrated in a hands-on setup in the Advocate Condell Conference Center.

Find more details and register for the event here.

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  1. Wheat is inflammatory to the body. Does not matter if it is homemade, organic, whole wheat, etc. I would have rather seen healthier pizza crust ideas!!!

  2. isn’t there a way to make pizza crust out of cauliflower? I agree with the “less is more” approach to pizza toppings.

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About the Author

John Durning
John Durning

After spending most of his professional life is commercial banking and commercial real estate, John decided to follow his heart/passion and open a wood-fire pizzeria in Libertyville, Ill. During his younger years he worked in a wide range of restaurant jobs throughout New York, New England and beyond. Once established in commercial banking, he began taking vacations and arranging quick internships at restaurants he admired. Eventually he couldn't take the temptation anymore and decided to open his own place.