Chefs find their places in pizzerias
I have a confession to make: In the past 40 years, I’ve been associated with some wonderful chefs and kitchens who’ve jumped on culinary trends like a Yeti attacking a tired hiker. Sometimes, in their enthusiasm, they created the most atrocious food abominations in the world. I cringe as I write these, but here are a few: green peppercorn-stinging nettle and strawberry ice cream; green salad “soup” with tofu “croutons” (served with a spiral straw); Spam pizza with pineapple-chocolate cream; olive-watermelon aioli; chicken skin-wrapped filet mignon and the most magnificent disaster of my baking life: the Mike and Ike baguette. Yes, I kneaded the candy gently into dough, baked it until it came out oozing like napalm. Then the little nuggets hardened up like rocks in all their tooth-chipping glory. Big mistake.
Change in this business is inevitable. By channeling knowledge, creativity and our own priorities, we can show our customers more exciting foods than our corporate competitors. But where is the limit to creativity? How much is too much? These questions are important because creativity lies on a razor’s edge with success or failure on each side.
In this fast-changing restaurant business environment, today’s customers are bombarded by new foods on social media and TV. By keeping our antennas up, we can accommodate the heightened culinary creativity that our customers demand. If you look around your restaurant, you can use items you already have to manipulate your menu-mix to adapt to changing trends.
Many factors surround a decision to engineer new menu items. Introducing anything new is not as simple as it seems. Here is a list of questions that are important.
- Will this item reflect your business model? Are you comfortable with your core customer base, static menu and unchanging cash flow? Or are you highly motivated to capture more revenue by introducing newness and excitement to out-do your competitors?
- Will this item sell? This all depends on the market you are in. Who, exactly will pay money for it? Is the item familiar enough for your customers to take a chance on or will you have to educate them? Does it add value to your menu and is it image boosting?
- How much is a new menu item, pizza or topping? The cost per ounce of food is very important. This includes costs of trimming waste, prepping, holding and eliminating (or keeping) moisture content as well as the labor to complete the fabrication. Does this topping or item have a good “spread” on pizza or pasta? Some items are so heavy they need to be chopped too fine to enhance a recipe.
- Can my staff produce a quality product without messing it up? This includes training, instructions, printing, signing everyone off on training, teaching culinary expertise and communication with customers. Are you prepared to inspire them, show them and taste them on the item?
Normal meatballs are usually made using garlic, onion, Pecorino or Parmesan, breadcrumbs and herbs with egg for a binder. They can rely on baking in sauce for extra flavor and are sized from an inch up to four inches. In this recipe, I took advantage of my local farmers who dumped a lot of local onions on me and made some great lamb and beef.
These gems are a variant of the Lebanese “Mashi Basal” that I love to make for my customers. Berbere* spice is a big trend in restaurants across the country and this spicy “dagger” is a great foil for the sweet boiled onion “cloak.” These are simple to make and after par cooking and refrigerated, they can be put directly on a pie.
*Berbere (behr-behr-EE) spice can be found in specialty stores and is a combination of hot pepper powder,paprika, salt, coriander, ginger, cardamom, fenugreek, nutmeg, allspice and ground cloves. Some may be spicier than others. For this recipe, you may mix all ingredients with half the Berbere spice then cook a small piece to check for heat.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio, and is an award-winning pizzaiolo, speaker and author.