The Tripping Billy: Billy Zureikat’s Runaway Pizza Hit

Story by Rick Hynum | Photographs courtesy of Billy Zureikat

When Billy Zureikat was identified with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy in March 2021, his life took a sudden flip for the more serious—and for the higher. Getting about isn’t all the time straightforward for the Chicago native anymore, however his pizza, burger and sandwich creations have turn into runaway hits at eating places all throughout the Windy Metropolis.

Oddly sufficient, Zureikat isn’t even within the restaurant enterprise. He’s a self-taught house prepare dinner who, because it seems, has a knack for culinary innovation. And Chicago restaurateurs like Derrick Tung, co-owner of Paulie Gee’s Logan Sq., and Robert Garvey of Robert’s Pizza & Dough Co. are taking discover.

From Basketball to Baking
Zureikat, a former ESPN Radio producer and now a logistics supervisor for Landstar System, has all the time liked taking part in basketball. He was hitting the courtroom 3 times per week with pals when he began getting clumsy—or so he thought. He stored tripping and falling for no obvious motive. One thing was incorrect, however he brushed it off.

“Flash-forward just a few years later,” he says, “and my legs are getting worse and worse. I can’t bodily run and bounce anymore, so basketball wasn’t an choice. I wanted one thing extra, so I began shifting my consideration to cooking and, finally, in 2016, to baking. I began educating myself do fundamental doughs, sweets and desserts. Then, I began educating myself make bread and sourdough.”

Looking for just a little skilled steerage, he reached out to Tung, who has been turning Chicagoans on to Detroit-style pizza since 2016. “I went to Paulie Gee’s after they first opened,” Zureikat recollects. “I used to be blown away by the service and the meals. I messaged them on Instagram asking for recommendation, particularly for Detroit-style, simply because it was one thing that was very accessible to a house prepare dinner. I didn’t want a loopy high-heat oven. I simply wanted a pan and will make it work.”

Tung was completely satisfied to assist. “Derrick invited me in, gave me some suggestions and instructed me concerning the pans he had, and at that time he simply grew to become my pizza mentor,” Zureikat says. “I’d make pizzas out of my residence and publish them on Instagram only for enjoyable. I’d all the time deliver them to Derrick to strive, and he would give me his opinions. He mainly grew to become my guinea pig, and I’d deliver him slices and bagels and different issues I cooked and baked. We grew to become pals.”

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At some point in 2020, Zureikat went buying at an area farmer’s market. “I joke that I black out once I go to a farmer’s market as a result of I get so enthusiastic about all these loopy components and contemporary stuff,” he says. “I type of nerd out about it. So I simply blacked out and purchased manner too many shishito peppers—like, three or 4 kilos. I acquired house, and I used to be like, ‘What am I gonna do with these?’ So I began considering of various concepts.”

And that’s how the Tripping Billy pizza was born.

Holy Shishito Peppers!
Zureikat primarily based the Tripping Billy on a hearty Mexican dish known as rajas con crema, made with poblano chile peppers, onions, cream and cheese. “So I took shallots and garlic and cooked them down with the shishito peppers,” Zureikat says. “I diminished some heavy cream into it. Then I added some Parmesan cheese and completed it with some nutmeg. The shishito peppers are roughly chopped, and the shallots and garlic are thinly sliced. It’s chunky, it’s coarse—I don’t mix it down. It’s this actually flavorful sauce. It’s simply completely different. I haven’t seen something prefer it. So I had this sauce, and I’m like, all proper, what do I do with it now?”

The reply: slather it on a pizza crust. Then he added some mozzarella and corn. “Quite simple,” he says. “It was excellent, nevertheless it was additionally very heavy. I purchased some to Derrick, and he favored it.”

However Zureikat wasn’t completed but. By the summer time of 2021, he’d been identified with muscular dystrophy and was feeling low. Basketball was positively a no-go now. However even when he couldn’t leap to tug down a rebound or sink a three-pointer, he may nonetheless make his manner across the kitchen. Cooking was a brand new brilliant spot in his life.

this is a photo of the Tripping Billy pizza topped with green shishito peppers, a shishito-based sauce and kernels of corn

He determined to present his pizza with the shishito pepper sauce one other strive, this time within the Detroit type as a substitute of the grandma selection. “I assumed crispy cheese on the sting could be actually good with it,” he says. “I added cheddar cheese and pickled jalapenos to chop the richness from the cream and the cheese. And the most important distinction was, I added some scallions on the finish for the garnish, after which I roasted some complete shishito peppers and put one on every slice. That was the ultimate product. It was simply mind-blowing. It was so good.”

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Tung agreed. He favored it a lot, he wished to function it in his 2021 Slice of Summer season occasion, which benefited No Children Hungry and Feeding America. “He was selecting seven house pizza makers to make a pizza of their alternative…and requested me to be certainly one of them,” Zureikat says.

Earlier than lengthy, Zureikat, regardless of some frequent stumbling, was on the highway to success.

“Possibly Meals Is My Voice”
Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy causes weak point and losing of the muscular tissues, usually within the hips and legs, so journeys and falls include the territory. However previous to naming his pie, Zureikat, who was simply 38, had been protecting quiet about his analysis. Then, someday, he acquired a impolite awakening from a complete stranger.

“I used to be strolling my canine, Einstein, in my neighborhood, and my leg gave out, and I fell,” he remembers. “That occurs, sadly—simply randomly. This time I fell with somebody strolling behind me. She noticed me fall and didn’t supply any assist. I used to be on the bottom and pulled myself up, and he or she simply stored strolling. That simply triggered me. I didn’t need her assist or something, however I acquired sick of myself hiding it.”

At this level, Tung had determined to function Zureikat’s pizza—which didn’t have a reputation but—as a solo month-to-month particular all through November 2021 to lift funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Affiliation (MDA). “That’s once I known as it the Tripping Billy,” Zureikat says. “I wished to talk out and use that pizza as a platform and share the story of my analysis and the way I needed to reinvent myself by cooking and meals. I journey quite a bit, in order that’s why I known as it the Tripping Billy.”

“I really like the Tripping Billy pizza,” Tung says. “I used to be just a little hesitant concerning the identify at first, frightened that it was too on the pinnacle. However Billy wished to call it that and was high-quality with poking enjoyable at himself, so we went ahead with it.”

In spite of everything, a unprecedented pizza deserves a catchy identify. “The flavors and the textures of the corn, the shishito peppers, and so forth., actually make it an awesome pizza, to not point out the colourful colours,” Tung notes.

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Paulie Gee’s bought 148 Tripping Billy pizzas that month, and its success impressed Zureikat to launch his personal fundraising marketing campaign for the MDA. “I noticed I used to be beginning to discover my voice, and that my voice truly had some energy,” he says. “I may make a distinction. I noticed that perhaps meals is my voice.”

we see Billy, wearing a red apron and a yellow knit ski cap, sitting down with the Tripping Billy displayed before him

Going On Tour
Zureikat launched the Tripping Billy to different Chicago restaurateurs, and a sequence of collaborations—known as the Tripping Billy Tour—took off in 2022. He tailored the recipe for various types, showcasing it at a complete of eight pizzerias, together with Pizza Pleasant Pizza (Sicilian-style), Crust Fund Pizza (tavern-style) and Milly’s Pizza within the Pan (pan-style). He has additionally developed different Tripping Billy gadgets, together with a breakfast sandwich for Spinning J, a sub sandwich for JP Graziano and a burger for Goose Island Brewery.

He kicked off his 2023 tour in January at Zazas Pizzeria, lauded for its New York-style pies with a Neapolitan aptitude. Each cease of the tour raises cash for the MDA, with a tally of about $35,000 thus far.

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Zureikat’s restaurant companions reap the advantages, too, Tung says. “I feel Billy is doing nice issues together with his plan to give attention to elevating funds for charity by his culinary creations, all of the whereas collaborating with native eating places to assist drive site visitors and a focus to those eating places as effectively.”

Can Zureikat envision launching his personal restaurant someday? “Bodily, it’s just a little powerful for me with my incapacity,” he says. “However I’m going to be concerned in meals. I’ve numerous concepts, and I’m rising a following right here.”

For Billy, the Tripping Billy pizza has been about reinventing himself whereas elevating consciousness for muscular dystrophy. “It’s modified my life utterly. I went from an unknown house baker, and now [restaurateurs] are reaching out to me….I joke about it on a regular basis: I traded in my jersey for an apron. My story is actually distinctive, and I wish to encourage individuals to know that, no matter your well being, you may see what I’m doing and say, ‘You understand what? I’m going by a tricky time, however I can discover one thing that brings me pleasure.’”

Rick Hynum is PMQ’s editor in chief.