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Getting a piece of the pie

It wasn’t as if we needed reassurance of the high-ranking status of pizza in the food world, but there it was—and from a very unlikely source. “The only thing I’d like to do is to be able to go out one day without anyone recognizing me and go get a pizza,” Pope Francis recently said, while celebrating the second anniversary of his election. chef making pizza upscale pizza restaurant menu

His love for pizza is something everyone can relate to. Starting out as a humble dish brought to the United States from Italian immigrants in the late 19th century, pizza has grown to become a staple across the country, earning many accolades along the way. To wit: Both Chris Bianco of Arizona’s Pizzeria Bianco and Nancy Silverton of California’s Pizzeria Mozza have received prestigious James Beard Awards for their pizza passion.

And pizza shows no signs of slowing down, with restaurateurs of all types putting their own creative spins on the traditional pie. This innovation is more than just thin crust versus thick crust; plenty of chefs are thinking outside the (pizza) box—and it’s paying off. “The best way to set yourself apart from the competition and not have your medium pepperoni pizza judged against everyone else’s is to do something new,” says Trip Kadey, director of culinary for The French’s Food Company.

Here are a few ways to do just that:

It’s closer than you think. When he’s searching for new pizzas ideas, Kadey often looks at sandwiches that are trending and explores how he can build them as a pizza. “If you look across the line, you see the same characteristics and strategy of building flavors between the two,” he says, citing classic sandwiches such as Philly cheese steaks, cheeseburgers and Reubens as great ways to deliciously blur the lines. For example, California Pizza Kitchen, one of the early pizza innovators, offers a California Club pie with smoked bacon, roasted chicken and mozzarella that’s topped with avocado, arugula and fresh torn basil.

(Un)flour power. With a significant number of consumers continuing to avoid gluten, the gluten-free trend isn’t going away. In other words: For operators, including a gluten-free pizza option is no longer an option. Need more proof? As of January 2015, Pizza Hut became the first major pizza chain to offer a certified gluten-free pizza in a third of its locations.

Healthy pizza—not an oxymoron. “I’ve been waiting for someone in the pizza industry to come out with a truly wonderful better-for-you pizza,” says Kadey. “You don’t have to call it a healthy pizza; just call out the ingredients.” Menu options to consider include whole-wheat or whole-grain crust, lean proteins or light cheese. “You can easily put out a really nice, crispy and freshly flavored pizza with half the sodium, fat and calories,” says Kadey. And don’t let your efforts go unnoticed, he says; be sure to include mention of it prominently on your menu.

The most important meal of the day. Plenty of us are familiar with the guilty pleasure of eating leftover pizza first thing in the morning. That’s something that was an unlikely source of inspiration for chef Wolfgang Puck, who features pizzas topped with breakfast ingredients—think eggs, sausage, bacon and cheddar cheese—at his airport venues. Operators who menu pizzas with breakfast flavors can drive sales in all dayparts.

Meat heads. The nose-to-tail movement is another trend that has a firm foothold in restaurants—and not just in the places where you’d expect to find it. Some chefs are taking their love of butchering and creating custom housemade sausage for their pizzas too. For example, Nellcôte, an upscale concept in Chicago, offers diners the option of adding housemade fennel sausage to any pizza on its menu. 

The little things. However, there are plenty of ways to put a signature stamp on pizza, even without scratch-making sausage. “You may not want to make something from scratch, but you can start with a high-quality, naturally made product and add one or two ingredients to customize and make it your own,” says Kadey. This could be as simple as adding freshly chopped ginger to an Asian barbecue sauce.

The finishing touch. Before your pizza gets delivered tableside, why not add a little something extra? These “after toppings,” says Kadey, could include extras such as a sprinkle of fresh rosemary or basil on a classic Italian pizza or a drizzle of cumin-lime sour cream on a Latin-style one. At Chicago’s Japonais by Morimoto, the cold tuna pizza on the appetizer menu gets a dusting of fresh cilantro just before being served.

For more ways to bring unique flavor to pizza, check out The Pizza InspiratorSM, a handy online tool that offers unique recipes for pizza dishes (Inspirators are available for breakfast and lunch recipes as well). If pizza is a battleground, the InspiratorSM may be your new secret weapon.

This post is sponsored by The French's Food Company

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