The Pizza Chef: Incorporating international flavours
Diana ClineFeatures Business and Operations
Canadian palates are growing more sophisticated by the day. We are a multicultural society and that helps expose us to more styles of cooking, more spices, more flavours and more textures. While there will always be a demand for classic pepperoni and cheese pizzas, more millennials and foodies are ready and willing to push the boundaries of the usual. You don’t have to look too hard to find inspiration for an international flavour to use on a pizza: a visit to your local Asian market or your local grocery store will yield plenty of ingredients and sauces to play with.
Last October, a competitor for our Chef of the Year competition at Pizza Summit East brought her international Indian-inspired Butter Chicken Pizza to the competition. As I recall, the pizza was delightful, featuring a roasted squash, red onions, green peppers, cheeses, and, of course, butter chicken and butter chicken sauce. The year before, for our recipe contest, pizza chef Salar Madadi scored top marks with his Mala Honey Pie, a Thai-inspired pizza; featuring green onions, pickled chilis, Thai cinnamon basil, mozzarella and shredded asiago, a custom mix of Thai spices and a good drizzle of hot honey. These are definitely not your everyday run-of-the-mill pizzas!
I look to international dishes for inspiration: sauces like teriyaki, hoisin, kung pao, black bean, oyster, peanut, and Chui Choi-style chili oil are amazing flavours to play with and add unique and delicious components to any pizza.
We have many unique pizzas on our menu, and several we consider international flavour fusion pizzas. One of my all-time favourites is our international Polynesian-inspired Sweet’n’Spicy Divine Swine – featuring marinara, dry-cured pepperoni, pineapple, barbecue pulled pork with a splash of hot sauce, mozzarella and medium sharp Cheddar cheese. It’s always in the top 5 most popular pizzas on our menu. We put pulled pork on the menu back in 2008, and while it was unusual at the time, it’s become quite popular with our clientele, and I’ve since noticed it being offered on other high-end pizzeria menus.
Another international flavour pizza on our menu is a Chinese-inspired pizza we call our Kung Pao chicken pizza. I was inspired to create this pizza by one of my favourite dishes at my preferred Chinese food place. This pizza features our olive oil and herbs sauce, mozzarella cheese, red and green peppers, red and green onions, Kung Pao chicken breast and pineapple. It’s a masterpiece – beautiful to look at and delicious.
We’ve had a couple of Mandarin-inspired pizzas on the menu over the years; a couple of years ago I created our “Sriracha-ZZA aka The Rooster Pizza” in honour of the Chinese Year of the Rooster. I coincided the release with Chinese New Year. This pizza featured our olive oil and herbs sauce, sriracha chicken breast, hot banana peppers, baby corn, minced garlic with Monterey Jack and mozzarella cheeses.
Later that year, I created our “Cashew Chicken Winner” featuring our olive oil and herbs sauce, mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheeses, hoisin chicken breast, toasted cashews, baby spinach and minced garlic. Back in 2008, we also had a Mandarin Beef pizza featuring olive oil and herbs sauce, mozzarella cheese, Mandarin beef (we brought in steak strips and marinated them in this spicy Mandarin sauce), sugar snap peas, mushrooms and matchstick carrots. I know this pizza was ahead of its time: it was 2008, and when polled, my clientele found it “weird” – with carrots and sugar snap peas on a pizza?! Still, everyone who sampled it said it was incredible.
One month I brought in kimchi from a local company and created a couple of specialty pizzas and a flatbread featuring it. Kimchi is Korea’s national dish. It’s nutrient-loaded with prebiotics and probiotics, so it’s very healthy, it’s vegetarian and it’s got amazing textures and flavours. It has a natural heat to it, so literally, if you want to spice up your menu, this is a great addition.
One creation featured barbecue sauce, kimchi, green peppers, pineapple, Roma tomatoes, with mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheeses. Finally, the flatbread we called “BBQ Chicken Kimchi” featuring olive oil and herbs sauce, Garlic’n’Chive Havarti, barbecue chicken, strip bacon and fresh kimchi, meaning it’s put on cold, after the pizza is baked, as a garnish. I personally loved these pizzas: they were savoury and the right amount of spice.
I’m not the first to suggest a crab Rangoon pizza. Here’s a Chinese, North American fusion inspired dish that’s super hot and trendy right now. There are several recipes for crab Rangoon out there, each with slight differences, but the main ingredients for the mixture are cream cheese, crab meat, scallions, garlic, fish, soy and Worcestershire sauces, sesame oil, and salt and pepper. I’ve had it with tamarind sauce on the side for dipping, but I’ve also seen it served with a sweet chili sauce or sometimes a duck sauce. It’s up to the chef as to which sauce they’d like to feature it with, but it’s definitely a pizza that will get folks talking!
I hope this column has inspired you to get creative.You don’t have to go all in: you could pick one or two sauces, create your own international inspired fusion flavours, and see what resonates with your customers. Who knows, it could even score top marks at the next Pizza Summit and win you a trip to compete in Vegas.
Diana Cline is an award-winning pizza chef, a partner with Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating operational systems and marketing to help operators grow their business strategically. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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