By Lucas Crawford
By Lucas Crawford
Like any icon of attitude and coolness, pizza has spawned a long line of wannabes.
Like any icon of attitude and coolness, pizza has spawned a long line of wannabes. As disturbing as it might seem to purists that pizza has been reduced to a mass-produced flavour powder for pizza-flavoured Pringles, we must remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (even if it’s not always the most delicious).
Many snacks belong alongside Pringles in the list of pizza-inspired noshes. An exemplary product is one found most often in convenience store freezer cases: Cheemo’s “Pizzarogy” perogies, which have tomato paste, mozzarella, oregano, onion, green pepper and the cryptic descriptor “pizza seasonings” blitzed into their usual potato filling. While not the height of sophistication or flavour, I can say from experience that these tasty pockets will satisfy late-night partygoers in the sad case that their local pizza joint closes before their preferred watering hole.
Other wannabes aren’t so lucky. Next to the pizzarogies sit rows of pops and pockets that are destined for uneven dorm-room nuking, a suitable destiny for the orange gruel lying within. At the cash register, you’ll find Combos – pretzel tubes filled with a disturbingly scarlet “pizza” paste. With this inventory of subpar snacks in mind, the question arises: can’t we create better imitations?
Chefs and craftspeople have begun doing precisely that. Most famously, molecular gastronomist Wylie DuFresne of New York City’s wd~50 once featured “pizza pebbles” on his menu. Described on the menu simply as “pizza pebbles, pepperoni, shiitake,” the artistic plate featured small balls of ultra-smooth pizza-flavoured powder, sandwiched between thin slivers of dried mushroom, all placed on a bed of pepperoni sauce. Fans of DuFresne have created and posted their own versions of his dish, which include “toast powder,” confit garlic oil and buttermilk powder. The pebbles were even at the centre of a heated page of debate on an online culinary forum in 2008. When anonymous posters mocked the pebbles, Wylie DuFresne (or an imitator) made a tongue-in-cheek response: they were welcomed to a lifetime supply of pizza pebbles!
Those who wish that they could wash pizza down with more pizza, never fear! Jones Soda is well known for its experimental flavours (such as “Turkey and Gravy” and “Pumpkin Pie”) and its 2010 Limited-Edition Pizza Soda is no exception. While the product has not garnered flattering reviews online, its bright red hue makes it a great conversation piece if you’re lucky enough to have visitors who revel in the absurd.
If pizza-flavoured drinks sound appetizing, Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer might be a better bet. Homebrewers and pizza lovers Athena and Tom Seefurth of Illinois created this unique ale in 2006 and have since been selling it online. This vegan beer begins with a Margherita pizza, which is added to the mash and “steeped like a tea bag.” Throughout the process, additional spices are infused into the liquid, using a bag that is similar to cheesecloth. The result is a beer that tastes of basil, garlic, oregano, and tomato. While many pizza-flavoured products seek to reduce pizza to a red syrupy essence, the Seefurth’s motivation was to produce a drinkable beer that actually paired well with their favourite pies. Their website reveals the versatility of the product: it has been used to make sausages, to marinate steaks, and to liven up the classic “beer batter” for seafood. To turn up the volume on this Margherita ale, make it a meat lovers’ martini: amp up the beer with a shot of bacon-infused vodka, rub torn-up basil leaves on the rim of the glass, and float an olive in the bottom. For a Hawaiian twist, garnish with a wedge of pineapple wrapped in speck (an Austrian/Italian ham) or a crisp pancetta chip.
Pizzerias may bend this trend to their benefit. A spread of local or house-made salami or sausage, fresh mozzarella, artichokes, olives and fresh heirloom tomatoes will make a shareable pizza-inspired charcuterie platter. A clientele of “hipster” foodies would appreciate the irony of pizza topped with pizza-flavoured products. For one with crunch, use a Combos “streusel” as a topping. Simply pulse pizza Combos in a food processor, toss with melted better and Parmesan cheese, bake, and then dust the result onto hot pies.
These pizza imitators open a whole delicious field of philosophical questions. When does a pizza cease to be a pizza? What is the essence of the dish, and does it survive these processes of puréeing, boiling and straining? Famous Catalan chef Ferran Adria of the world’s foremost experimental kitchen, El Bulli, is rumoured to have been studying pizza in Turin and Padua over the past several years. With his penchant for culinary trickery, from carrot-orange foam to exploding pea-soup spheres, who knows how he might modify the genes of pizza? The possibilities, like our own menus and diverse clientele, demand that we think beyond the crust.
Lucas Crawford is a poet, an activist, and a PhD student in English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. His food writing has appeared in Culture: the Word on Cheese and Meatpaper: Journal of Meat Culture. Lucas also writes and publishes on the topics of architecture, modernism, politics and queer culture.