Business and Operations
The pizza Chef: January-February 2014
By Diana Coutu
The g-free decision - Does your market want gluten-free pizza, and if so, how do you add it to your
By Diana Coutu
Gluten-free has grown so fast in the Canadian market, that it could be argued it has gone from niche to mainstream.
Gluten-free has grown so fast in the Canadian market, that it could be argued it has gone from niche to mainstream. Many of the largest brands in the country, such as President’s Choice, have rolled out entire gluten-free product lines, making them a mainstay for their shoppers. Similarly, it seems that now many of the big pizza chains are offering a gluten-free pizza.
Perhaps you’ve been considering whether or not there is enough demand in your market to add it to your menu. Something to note is that the celiac community is close knit. There are many factors to look into if you’re going to do it right.
In 2008, we were getting dozens of phone calls asking if we made a gluten-free pizza. People with gluten allergies and intolerances were begging us to make a gluten-free pizza that they could eat. Something palatable was requested, but they were really hoping for something tasty. Often there was a young family member who had been recently diagnosed with celiac disease and that meant that pizza was no longer a meal option for the whole family.
The people who were requesting gluten-free pizza from us needed to have confidence that it wouldn’t make them sick. They needed to be assured that special care in the preparation and cooking would be done so they could enjoy a pizza like everybody else, except that it would be a gluten-free pizza. In a way, it was very flattering to hear requests from people with gluten allergies; many said that we are known for being the best when it comes to all things pizza and these people really missed pizza.
It took me a long time to develop our own gluten-free pizza recipe. Our recipe is made in house, from scratch, and when we make it we take special care to limit the exposure to wheat flour. We could have sourced the pre-made shells like some other pizza places do, but we felt that we could do better.
Italians have been making gluten-free pizza for years and they even have a gluten-free-baking category at the World Pizza Championship games.
We also polled the people who were asking for gluten-free pizza crust if there were other allergies or dietary restrictions to consider. We discovered that the majority of our sample were also allergic to dairy, and some were strict vegan as well. Many North American gluten-free recipes are made with eggs and or milk. I developed mine to be free of dairy and eggs and vegan-diet friendly.
While we were developing our gluten-free pizza dough recipe, we had several testers who tried our sample batches and sent us evaluations of each test. We knew we had the right recipe when all the evaluations came back with the same comment: “This tastes like pizza!!!”
Even though we had our winning recipe, we still had to figure out how to incorporate a from-scratch gluten-free pizza into a busy wheat pizzeria. I asked friends in Australia and Italy how they have been able to successfully offer it on their menus for the past 10 years. We then developed our system based on many suggestions from these experts.
Part of the other challenge was to check with all our suppliers about whether or not their products were deemed gluten-free.
We have a special shelf inside our walk-in where we make the gluten-free pizzas. We use sauce, toppings and cheese from the walk-in, which have not been in our kitchen, exposed to the wheat dusting flour that we slap onto our wheat pizzas.
Whenever we get an order for a gluten-free pizza, a pizzaiolo takes a clean, fresh apron and makes that gluten-free pizza in the walk-in, then loads it in our granite stone conveyor oven. We use separate baking disks and we also use a separate pizza peel and separate cutting wheel for our gluten-free pizzas.
We take extra special care that these pizzas are not exposed to any wheat products. It’s a lot of work, but we realize that not caring could make someone very sick and that’s just not acceptable.
Diana Coutu is a two-time Canadian Pizza Magazine chef of the year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, co-owner of Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg, Man., and a director for the CRFA from 2009-13. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis. For more information, contact her at Diana@dianasgourmetpizzeria.ca.