I Invented a Way to Keep a Slice of Pizza Forever
Designer Steph Mantis explains how she went from growing up in a pizza shop to encasing slices of pie in resin.
My family owns one of the oldest pizzerias in Maine in downtown Biddeford. It's called Pizza by Alex. So much of who I am is informed by my family's pizzeria. My middle name is Alexis after the pizzeria. When I played basketball and I would get to the free-throw line, the crowd would chant "Alex Pizza!" My nickname in so many places is Pizza, or Pizza Girl, or Homeslice. Over time, I just became synonymous with pizza in my circles. And it's not just the content and the subject; the community and the relationships that happen around food have been embedded in me and the work I do. It's become clear—no pun intended—with this project.
In 2012, the American Design Club had a call for entry for a show called Threat. The idea was basically, "It's 3AM and someone breaks into your house and what do you use to defend yourself?" It was a hypothetical weapons show. Because every night for me is, in one way or another, a pizza party, I would throw a curled-up slice of pizza like a ninja star. You can't really bring an old piece of pizza to an art show, so I thought maybe I could encase it in resin. I started realizing that I was making more than a weapon: I was making an homage. It was an ode to my family and the beginning of Forever Pizza.
You can't really bring an old piece of pizza to an art show, so I thought maybe I could encase it in resin. I started realizing that I was making more than a weapon: I was making an homage.
Nobody works harder than people who work for their family, because you see the direct impact of that work; you wake up and go to bed recognizing how your contributions add up. I've worked in a few restaurants in New York and you can always tell who's worked in restaurant families.
WATCH: How To: Make Homemade Pizza with Frank Pinello
Pizza is for everyone, whether you grab a slice or you get pizza after a football game. Or it's a date in and of itself. Pizza is like the watering hole, it's where everybody goes. So, what started off as a weapon for the Threat show—which was about pushing people away—actually brought everything closer to me; it's a force of attraction as opposed to a force of opposition.
The prompt was to design a hypothetical weapon but when the pictures of the pizza went online, the Internet went fucking crazy. Pee Wee Herman tweeted about it, Bon Appétit called me, Pizza Brain, the world's first pizza museum called me—I'm on their board of directors now—it even put me in touch with ?uestlove. It's like the thing that opens the doors to all the cool projects and relationships.
Part of this project's purpose was to have Forever Pizzas in people's homes and generate these kinds of conversations, but when a video of the Forever Pizza went viral, it generated a fucking demand for this thing as something you can buy. So, I created this newsletter mailing list and there's about 2,400 people on that list and from them I got 2,200 responses about why they wanted it. It means a ton of things to a ton of people.
I call the process "Foreverizing," but technically you can say that it's embedded or encased. It's like the mosquito in amber from Jurassic Park. You dehydrate the pizza and extract as much moisture and fat as you can, then you create a mold and layer it with liquid plastic until it's completely submerged, then it's cured and baked (like pizza) and you polish it and Forever Pizza is what you get.
In the episode of the Pizza Show I was in, Frank brought over a slice from a $2,500 pizza for me to encase. I just got the sample back and it looks fucking insane. I think that authenticity is relevant not just with our food but with our news and our experiences with our expectations of our physical objects. As a product designer, I see a lot of rendered hypothetical products. Until you've put it in the world and made it work with people, it's a concept. But you have to make it real and share it.
Food in general is a thing that you literally ingest and put inside yourself. We don't talk about it when we eat, but there's a lot of trust at play. The whole notion of breaking bread is about making peace with the enemy. It's like, 'If I eat this thing, and you eat this thing, then I'm not dying and you're not going to die.' It sounds insane, but eating together is a way of saying, 'I'm not going to kill you.' With certain foods, because of how they're designed and how they're visually put together. Pizza is the ultimate version of this for two reasons.
First, it's cut up into pieces to be pulled from multiple directions. If that doesn't say, 'Share this!' then nothing does. You can imagine a picture of eight different-colored hands reaching into the same pizza, which, when it's round, is the shape of the Earth. So there's this universal sharing quality to it. That's the first thing. The second thing is that there are only three components: bread, sauce, and cheese. Most of the time, you can see all of the elements, and the best pizzas have the simplest ingredients.
I think there's a lot of decision fatigue when we have too many choices and there's a lot of decision fatigue when we're deciding whether or not something's good, so we just move on to the next thing instead. With pizza, there isn't enough time to be frivolous, it's a fast-cooked thing. The origins of it were street food and poor people and there's just no frivolity to that. But, at the same time, you have pizzerias serving $2,500 pies and you have Lucali's of New York, where Jay-Z closes it down so that he can have pizza.
I think that Forever Pizza is this tangible thing but also, conceptually, it should not exist. It should actually be a rendering. There's this glitch that happens there. It breaks down that barrier and you end up talking to people around you about this thing and you have to talk to each other about each other. Pizza is the thing that breaks the bread. Forever Pizza is the modern day art version of breaking the bread.
I think my parents get what I'm doing but don't know how to talk about it. When people ask them about Forever Pizza, they just show pictures of it to people. As soon as you say you make pizza, people assume that it's to be eaten. But I make inedible pizza. I do everything with pizza except eat it. Pizza has nourished me my entire life, either as a source of income or inspiration. My dad sees it as one way predominantly and I see it as a different thing predominantly. And the rest of the world sees it as food.
Sometimes we make stuff and we know exactly why we're making it and we're done. And sometimes, we're making things and we don't really know why, we just know we have to. That's what Forever Pizza is. I don't totally get it either.
As told to Nick Rose.
This first appeared on MUNCHIES in October 2017.