Of all the cooking tricks we love, there is nothing like the sight of a Pizzaiolo tossing a ring of unmade pizza dough high in the air with all the agility of a circus juggler. The pizza maker then adds some tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni or sausage and place it in the oven. Today, that Pizzaiolo is as much a gourmet chef as he is a simple pie maker, catering to more educated and adventurous customers.
The world of pizza has changed. Already among the top foods we eat regularly, pizza has expanded its audience by becoming gourmet and healthy. The emphasis is on top quality ingredients and innovation – urged on by a move into more upscale serving environments.
The trend is spurred on by the burgeoning number of food television shows, celebrity chefs, as well as the desire to cater to an elite group of adventurous diners, health-conscious eaters and those looking to expand their pizza experience.
In addition to pepperoni, sausage, peppers, onions, mushrooms and the usual list of toppings, the sky is now the limit for alternative toppings. The idea may be to reflect an ethnic flavor profile, as in a Mexican-style pie with jalapenos, cheese and salsa, or a Mediterranean pizza with feta, black olives and basil. Or it could be organic, gluten-free, low-cal, vegan or vegetarian.
Then again, creative pizza makers are taking high quality pepperoni and adding artichoke hearts and fresh Pecorino cheese. You may have heard about bacon and fried egg pizzas, or even something as wild as a peanut butter and jelly pizza.
Not Just Toppings
Over the years, the pizza crust has gone from oily, gooey and thick to light, thin and even brittle. Whole wheat dough, sourdough and gluten-free dough are being teamed with organic toppings and all-natural ingredients. The thin-crust pizza requires a high heat over a short 90 second cooking span in a wood-fired oven.
Another trend is in traditional Neapolitan-style blending double-zero Italian flour, plum tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala cheese, sea salt, yeast and basil. As a result, today’s Pizzaiolos are not focused so much on quantity, but on quality. They look for consistent, fresh ingredients and innovative ways to present their creations.
Artisan pizza may not replace the traditional pizza we grew up with, but it is an excellent way to augment a menu and increase sales. It is also fun and shows a commitment to entertainment and creativity that the pizza of years ago lacked.
So, the next time you see a Pizzaiolo in the kitchen flashing a big smile, you’ll know why: His all-natural, whole wheat, thin crust pizza topped with smoky and spicy Bravo Gusto pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, locally grown tomatoes and basil will be the hit of the party tonight … and every night.