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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

7 awesome finds at the Parizza pizza show in Paris

People often ask me what pizza in France is like and honestly it's a jungle out there.  As the second largest consumer of pizza in the world, after the USA, France has their own style which usually includes copious amounts of dairy.  But you can find any pizza under the sun in Paris (when there IS sun in Paris). In general, the French try to respect the Italian tradition for pizza because France has respect for their own food culture, with rules that are rigorously enforced (e.g. cheese comes after dinner, so does cognac).

France is an interesting market because unlike in America, the chains offer more expensive pizza while the independents are typically snack bars which offer pizza alongside burgers and kebabs at drunk student prices.  And while France has been engaging in a centuries long battle with Italy for the best cuisine in the world, French youth are very quickly digging into less prestigious snack foods.  France's growing taste for fast food was clear at the Parizza food show, part of the Sandwich & Snack Show in Paris. 

Here I've got a slice from Pizza Rustica, a great place to go to speak Italian and get pizza with buffalo mozzarella in Paris.
Below you'll find the 7 most awesome discoveries I made in my adventure to the Parizza expo. 

1. Black Pearl pizza crust

The name was given by French pizza chef Thierry Graffagnino, but the tradition of mixing vegetable charcoal in pizza dough is not new.  Rare breeds of Italian pizza chefs have mixed vegetable charcoal with pizza dough to make the dough more digestible. You can buy vegetable charcoal in Italian pharmacies as a remedy for an upset stomach.  I bought some last time I was in Italy but can barely stand the stuff.

2. High-quality French wine in a can

I do believe there is a company or two or three in the U.S. which is already making wine in a can.  In France, it's a hard sell since people are basically born with a cork in their mouth.  As I was speaking with the President of Winestar, Cédric, a French man approached the stand, somewhat appalled at selling wine grown in castles out of a can.  So it goes.  I tried it, and it was great wine!  Convenient for airplanes and having picnics.  You can take wine anywhere, hence the slogan "free your wine!"

3. Complicated expresso drinks that a 3-year-old can make

So, this is fancy.  An all-in-one, anyone-can-do-it coffee machine that uses real coffee beans and real milk.  At the touch of a button it grinds the beans, sucks up the milk and does all the work for you.  I asked the lady helping me at the booth who would buy this kind of thing and her response was "a luxury hotel."  Oh la la, I want to stay in one and make coffee. 

4. Incredible Ventable pizza boxes 

These pizza boxes were created in India just a few years ago and have rapidly gained traction in the market for pizza makers who are determined to keep their pizza true to its best form in route.  In France people pay higher tickets for delivery than they do dine in or carry out, so the slight increase in price per box doesn't bare much difference.  What was especially cool about this booth was that when I asked the guy if he knew pizza box enthusiast Scott Wiener, he immediately gave me a high five.  So much fun!


 5. Vintage Meat slicers

The consumer likes to be ever more knowledgable about where their food comes from, how it's handled, etc.  So as restaurants are becoming more transparent, they're making their equipment more pleasant to look at too.  One of the newest trends in Paris harkens back to the days of yore with vintage meat slicers.  These old fashioned contraptions will cost you big bucks up front, but they are sure to surprise your customers, entertain them and most importantly, slice their meat.

6. Tiny foods

It isn't new in France but it never fails to blow my mind how making any food in miniature form makes it infinitely more adorable.  Is this why French people are so skinny?  Their food is too cute to eat. Below we've got some mini burgers and some mini pastries.  Note my hands of longing for scale.

7. Visible Sandwich fillings

This is a method for prepping sandwiches by preparing them on a small plank.  When a customer chooses a sandwich it's folded into a cut open baguette and the plank slides right out.

This idea is so neat because it solves so many quandaries in one go.  It makes the sandwiches visually beautiful, customers know exactly what they are getting AND the sandwiches can be prepared quickly and freshly. Win, win, win.

Lastly, I found that champagne is good for any occasion at French trade shows.  In fact, drinking alcohol early in the day is encouraged.  This is the second year in a row that I got caught off guard and missed the International visitors cocktail which takes place between 12:30 and 2pm.  I don't know how they do it... unless the cocktails are as tiny as everything else they eat.

Drink it

Or spray it

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sweden's insatiable hunger for non-standard pies

In my last adventure in Sweden, I looked into a traditional mom and pop pizza place and a new, trendy pizzeria in the city of Gothenburg, both pizzerias ceaselessly commit pies against humanity.  In other words, they do some whacky things with toppings (and then very often apologize for it).  If the Swedish are known for simplicity in interior design, their pizzas are anything but.

Swedish Pizzerias

Pizza in Sweden is decidedly without any boundaries (which is how I like it at Pizza Without Borders).  With unspeakable combinations like banana, nuts and beef or gyro meat, iceberg lettuce and yogurt sauce, the Swedish customer expects a pizza to be versatile and never boring. 

David Smith and I at Pizzeria Mums
It's an industry dominated by a wide variety of people from different cultures who have all brought their unique flavors.  Pizza making in Sweden is almost entirely run by independents, many of whom are opened and run by immigrants from all over the world. 

Pizzeria Mums 

David Smith, owner of Pizzeria Mums (pizzeria yummy), was raised in Sweden but his roots and his wife come from Ecuador.  The employees I met from his store came from the Middle East, Asia, or in the case of his wife, South America. 

The menu has a long list of pizza types, like any standard pizzeria in Sweden with everything from seafood to fruit, beef filet to eggs.  The pictures below are taken from the Pizzeria Mums website. 

According to Smith, pizza makers in Sweden have a low social status.  It's not prestigious, not yet anyway, to call yourself a pizza maker and that's something Smith wants to change.  He hopes competitions like the Pizza Grand Prix that he organized in January will spark creativity, healthy competition and camaraderie between pizza makers.  

Brewers Beer Bar

Meanwhile on the other side of Gothenburg, pizza is making a name for itself in the trendy areas of the city.  They are modern trail blazers who don't accept cash, use only English on their menus and have taken pizza to the next level in Sweden. 

Brewer's began as an artisanal beer brewery with the intention of installing a full scale restaurant along with their craft beer on tap and specialty beer-based cocktails.

But with the complexity of the brewery and the business, they needed to find something simpler.  Brewer, sommelier and restaurant owner Victor Dahlberg (below) says that gourmet burgers were trending for a while in Sweden and now you can get a fancy burger just about anywhere. However, gourmet pizza is a new frontier which is just getting started and it was a home run for them.

They embraced pizza which, like beer, has a standard preparation with maximum possibilities for variation in flavor.  Staying true to their artisinal concept, they take great care into preparing their dough using a several years old sourdough starter and zero chemically produced yeast.  In a country that’s dominated by immigrants in the pizza business, it's not common to see native Swedes making and selling pizza. 

Pizza Chef Marika Blomgren says that people are often surprised to hear she works in pizza since she's not an immigrant and she's a female.  "When other pizza makers find out that I make pizza too they are really excited because of my demographic, being a Swedish woman." explains Marika. 

For the most part, prestigious pizzerias in Europe model themselves after an Italian style pizza.  But in Sweden, pizza makers aim for an American style more than Italian.  Brewer’s took inspiration from a pizzeria in California called Pizza Port which serves an extensive variety of craft beers and pizza.  The avocado and bacon pizza seemed especially California.  Going clockwise from the bacon pizza there is a pie made with squash, hazelnuts and English cheddar, followed by a French style mustard, fondue cheese and gherkin pizza.   Their pizza combinations, produced by a South Africa chef, are unique even by Swedish standards.

So excited about the eating pizza here.  Without using chemical yeast the dough was chewy, almost pita bread like. 

My favorite had pickles and carrots.

Their innovation is distinctly Swedish, complete with their own gourmet pizza salad topped with pomegranate seeds and hazelnut oil. 

Victor and his array of artisanal brews

Beer cocktails take the stage such as Beermonade and Black Russians made with Imperial Stout

Here David talks shop with Marika. What's revolutionary about the business is not that they use unusual toppings, it's putting pizza in the spotlight as an artisanal and respected food.  This is happening both in the independent mom and pops and trendy upscale pizzerias with the flourishing of pizza competitions around Sweden including an upcoming one in June hosted by Michel Arvblom.  Competition is challenging Swedish pizzerias even more to take pizza to the next level. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sweden reinvents pizza competitions, pushes heat limit on deck ovens

When the Swedish Pizza Federation calls up, you better answer.  That's just what I did and the Federation flew me out to the broodingly-named city of Gothenburg, Sweden.  My mission was to spin pizza dough and help judge the first Swedish Grand Prix pizza competition.  Along the way, I visited the manufacturing plant of the smartly designed pizza oven, PizzaMaster.

This post is divided into two parts with an overview of the Swedish pizza competition and a visit to the PizzaMaster headquarters.

The Pizza Grand Prix

This pizza competition was probably the most unique competition I had seen before in 3 different ways.

1) The Venue: It was hosted in a mall, not a food show.  And not just any mall, but the Nordstan, the 2nd largest mall in Sweden which gets a lot of traffic, especially when it's too cold to be outside.  The sponsors were pleased with doing an event at a mall because potential clients can be in any crowd of people and a mall is a great sampling of any city.

2) The Pizza Salad: The competitors were challenged to make pizza salad which is a shredded cabbage salad tossed in oil and vinegar, typically given for free with the order of a pizza.  Its origins are mysterious and some people including David Smith, principal organizer of the competition, are determined to change the tradition.  He hoped that by including it in the competition there might be some innovation and in the future that pizza makers will be able to charge for it too.  Smith charges a low price for it, the equivalent of 50 cents American, but he says people can get downright furious for having to pay for it.

3) The Family of Judges: Most pizza competitions have the judges sit as a panel or they are sequestered away.  At the Grand Prix we sat around a wooden table like an old family.  On the panel there were some of the founders of the Swedish Pizza Federation, Tony Gerasovski and Mike Arvblom; Swedish Masters cup 1st place winner Hassan Saroee,  2nd place winner Ioannis Peber, and brick oven sponsor Bruno Rossi.

Competitors were challenged to make 2 pizzas, a traditional capricciosa (ham and mushroom) and their own creation.  They were judged on taste, appearance, presentation and their pizza salad.  The capricciosa was pretty straight forward but competitors still managed to vary it quite a bit.  Some competitors used fine cured Spanish ham, for example.  This is ham on the pizza below.  It's brown because it's been marinated in beer and cognac to the point where it's no long identifiable as ham.  But that's OK because in Sweden, anything can happen on a pizza. To the right is some traditional pizza salad using white cabbage.

Click below to see a slideshow of Swedish competition pizzas

In the end, the best pizza went to Jonny Yuksel from I Love Pizza.  His pizza had a pepper cream base and was topped with manchego cheese, smoked duck breast, fresh chestnuts, artichoke cream and artichoke chips.  This pizza was my favorite too.  It had just the right amount of crispy from the artichoke chips, plus creamy, meaty and some light greens.

The winning pizza
Competition winner Jonny Yuksel (left) 
Photo courtesy of Daniel Arvblom
The day of the competition I tried 24 formidable pizzas but it wasn't my only task.  I was there to represent the U.S. Pizza Team and spin pizza.  I performed to a couple of songs during downtime and I even got to teach a cow how to spin pizza dough.  This cow was having his bachelor's party and as Swedish tradition goes, bachelor's parties consist of a series of humiliating acts for the husband-to-be.  Catch some of my pizza spinning performance in the video below.

Utter talent

Those who placed were awarded a pizza peel from Pizza Spade and the first place winner won a whole pallet of pizza flour.  It was a positive experience working with the Swedish Pizza Federation on their first Grand Prix pizza competition.  Mike Arvblom (eating pizza below), is a co-founder of the federation, world champion pizza maker, and the one who I owe this great experience too.  Judging pizza competitions is easily the best way to spend a Saturday. 

Me and Mike, photo by Daniel Arvblom
The next morning I got to be on Swedish radio too, on the Mix Megapol station in Gothenburg.  Apparently they had been mentioning all week they would have someone from the U.S. Pizza Team on the radio.  One of the fellow judges mentioned to me - ah! You're the American they've been talking about on the radio.

The radio crew said that people in Sweden are more and more against carbs.  I explained to them how pizza's healthy and balanced.  They seemed skeptical, but mostly just surprised that I wan't overweight.  On my next adventure, I visited BakePartner who produces PizzaMaster ovens.

A visit to Pizza Master

Not far from Gothenburg, in the town of Borås is where PizzaMaster pizza ovens are assembled and prepared to be shipped out to 130 different countries.  By sheer word of mouth PizzaMaster has grown to dominant the Swedish market by 90% and proud to be one of the only foreign oven companies to sell ovens into Italy.  Mansour Rashidi of PizzaMaster, pictured to the right, took me on a rare night tour of the PizzaMaster factory.  It was actually about 5pm, but in Sweden in January the late afternoon can be pitch dark. 

All the parts which will be used to make the ovens are stored in the ware house

Workers hand assemble the ovens in their individual work stations
Ovens in progress  
Finished oven boxed up and ready to go out

The most unique thing about these ovens is that they are one of the only deck ovens in the world which can get as hot as a wood fired oven, with the ability to keep a constant temperature at 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit). I asked Christer Andersson, Managing Director at PizzaMaster, why more deck oven companies don't make ovens that can reach extreme temperatures and his answer was simple, "it's not that easy." The company currently has ovens on backorder for requests from around the world and are looking for ways to increase production. 

Bonus! See the video below to witness a Neapolitan pizza being cooked in a PizzaMaster oven in under a minute and a half


Going to Sweden was a great experience.  I met amazingly friendly people and discovered an exciting, upcoming pizza scene.

Stay tuned for part two where I visit two Swedish pizzerias, a traditional mom and pop and a trendy, artisanal pizzeria gastropub in Gothenburg.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Guide to hiring: 5 myths about immigration reform

Finding the right employees is a trying task.  Today it’s more burdensome than ever as employers have become targets in the battle against illegal immigration.  Swat team-style raids and paperwork audits conducted by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have laid heavy fines on restaurants around the country, forcing some to close.  Today restaurants who are found to be employing illegals can expect to pay $250-$2,000 for each unauthorized worker.  If the employer has had a previous violation, that number jumps to $2,000 - $5,000 dollars per worker.  If it seems the employers hired undocumented workers deliberately, they may also face criminal charges.  Both the dwindling number of eligible workers in the labor force and the high fees associated with paperwork errors pose difficulties to business.

Deciphering who is legal and who's not gets tricky, particularly with those who came to the U.S. as children and were raised in the country.  Some of the businesses who incur fines may not even be aware their employees are not legal to work if the employee has presented authentic-looking but fraudulent working documents.  As of 2012 the Pew Research Center found that roughly 1 in 5 workers in the U.S. who prepare/serve food were born outside of American borders.  

Amid the recent controversy and confusion surrounding immigration legislation, I set out to clarify some of the most important things for restaurant owners to know.  I interviewed immigration attorney Amy Lighter in Livermore, California as well as 2 high-up employers in multi-unit pizza chains who preferred to remain incognito.  One of our interviewees comes from a west coast pizza chain while the other is based in the southeast. 

Myth 1: Obama’s executive orders on immigration open American borders to anyone who wants to work and reside in the U.S. including those who have just arrived. 

There are two important executive orders to know about, DACA and DAPA.  Both require that immigrants have been in the country continuously for a minimum of 5 years.

The Deferred Action executive order President Obama made in 2012 called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) only applies to immigrants who:

  • Have lived in the U.S. continuously since 2007
  • Were under 16 when they arrived
  • Were under 31 when Obama made his announcement in 2012
  • Have graduated, gotten a GED or have been honorably discharged from the military, or are still in school
  • Have no records of felonies, significant misdemeanors, or 3 misdemeanors

In November 2014, Obama announced an expansion to DACA which increased deferred action from 2 to 3 years and took off the age cap of 31 to include people of any age who have lived in the U.S. continuously since January 1, 2010 (and who arrived before their 16th birthday.) 

In November 2014 Obama also announced an executive order called DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability) which extends consideration for deferred action to parents of U.S. citizens or permanent lawful residents who were born before the announcement was made November 20, 2014.  Parents must have lived continuously in the U.S. since January 1, 2010 and have no felonies or significant misdemeanors to apply for deferred action and work authorization.

In essence, the executive orders delay deportation of a particular group of immigrants who have already laid down roots, finished school or served in the military and not committed any crimes. 

Myth 2: Undocumented immigrants who meet DACA and DAPA requirements are automatically granted the right to stay in the U.S.

Those who qualify for DACA or DAPA must file for consideration for deferred action along with paying a $465 application fee, presenting all relevant documents, and allowing the government to take their biometrics (fingerprints and photo).  Those who are approved are not given residency per se, but a 2 year promise to not be deported.  After 2 years they must again prove that they have no criminal records, that they have completed school (if they were still in school), and that they have not resided in any other countries during that 2 year period.  While applying for deferred action immigrants can also apply for work authorization.  

The expansion to DACA which will remove the age cap and extend deferred action time from 2 to 3 years will begin February 19.

Those who qualify for DAPA will not be able to apply for deferred action until May 2015 under the current schedule.

Gaining work authorization may take a while for the application to process.  According to the west coast pizza chain trainer who was interviewed, one of her friends applied for DACA the day it opened for applications.  “Two years later she received work authorization, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been managing a restaurant all these years."  

See an informative video on requirements and application procedures for DACA here.

Myth 3: Checking the wrong box on an I-9 is no big deal if done in good faith 

Misfilling out an I-9 form, even in good faith, can not only cost your business a heavy fine, it can be the nail in the coffin for your employee’s future right to work in the U.S. In a Texan newspaper article, business owner Mike Wier wasn't employing a single undocumented worker but because he lacked the proper paperwork, he was fined over $13,000!  Wier asserts in the piece, “they [immigration] are not looking for illegals. they're looking for clerical errors. it’s a money grab."

The pizzeria trainer I interviewed from the southeast has said that his chain has never been audited, but I-9 forms are taken very seriously.  "Every quarter there is an internal audit to make sure there are no errors," he says.  Errors in the paperwork may cost employers between $100-$1,000 each.  That's a lot of cash for mischecking a box. 

Attorney Amy Lighter is frustrated with the immigration laws which heavily punish paperwork errors.  She says even if someone else fills out paperwork for an undocumented worker in a false way, the worker will bare the burden for committing fraud which may forfeit their chance to ever gain legal work authorization.  Ever. 

Employers must carefully fill out I-9 forms for ALL employees and keep them in order in the event of an audit.  I-9 forms (download a PDF here) are filled out by the employer and employee and instructs employers on how to identify fraudulent documents. See an aricle from the National Restaurant Association (NRA) on ways to avoid common errors here.

Myth 4: E-verify can be used to prescreen employees 

E-verify is an online database of government records which allows employers to verify that the person they have chosen to hire is in possession of authentic working documents.  It is more robust than the social security database because some workers may have a valid social security number without authorization to work.  The new e-verify system explicitly states that you may not use it for prescreening.  There must be a job offer in place.  

The southeast trainer who was interviewed represents a brand that mandates e-verify.  He says, “sometimes workers are being trained already and working together in a really strong team when we get the news back from e-verify that they are not authorized to work.  Then we’re back to square one and have to hire again.  It’s challenging.” 

Not all states mandate the e-verification process.  Some states, like California, even have laws which forbid e-verification from being mandated.  This may be due to the sheer high proportion of undocumented workers in the area.  Attorney Lighter pointed out in a recent study, there were some 80,000 undocumented immigrants living within a 20 mile radius of Livermore, a city which has 85,000 living within its city limits. 

So while some states are forcing all employers to use e-verify, other states are telling employers that they don’t have to.  The employer I interviewed on the west coast doesn't use e-verify but she affirms that they are very strict about paperwork.  Comprehensive immigration reform, supported by the NRA, would mandate e-verification at the federal level for all states. 

See a full powerpoint on all you ever wanted to know on the e-verify system put together by U.S. Customs and Immigration Services here.

Myth 5: Undocumented workers take American jobs and don’t pay taxes

Cracking down on undocumented workers has reduced the work force available to restaurants.  The NRA supports immigration reform in part to cope with the growing demand for foodservice jobs which will be too great for U.S. Citizens alone to meet.

Over the next decade, the restaurant industry is expected to add 1.8 million positions, a 14 percent increase in the industry's workforce. But the native-born U.S. workforce is expected to grow by just 10 percent over this time, and the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds entering the workforce—an important source of restaurant employees—isn’t expected to grow at all. Without meaningful immigration reform, many restaurants and other businesses will be unable to keep up with the growing demand for their goods and services. Overall economic growth will slow and fewer jobs will be created. (

The pizzeria trainer interviewed in the southeast expressed his frustration saying that since his company has enforced using the e-verify system the past couple years, he has to constantly turn down workers who would otherwise be a great fit.  “Typically you don't find the kind of work ethic in American citizens.  Undocumented workers have more to work for, usually a family to support, they learn quickly and get the job done.  U.S. born workers don’t have as much responsibility, they are usually in it for beer money or extra cash.”

The west coast pizzeria trainer echoed our southeasterner's findings.  She finds that not only is the work ethic vastly stronger in immigrants but it’s hard to even find American citizens who want to work in a pizzeria for more than a year.  “Out of our 2 dozen locations we have probably 10 American born citizens per year apply to work with us.  They always start out super enthusiastic because making pizza is fun, they think it’s the coolest job.  But inevitably after about 6 months they realize what hard work it is and ask to deliver to avoid cleaning.  They don’t stay long whereas people who are supporting families will stay with us a good 10 years.  So who would you rather hire?  Someone who will be with you 6 months or 10 years?”

What we find in restaurants today is that hiring illegals is not as dubious as it once was.  It’s much less cash under the table and much more forged/falsified documents.  "Because most undocumented workers will have a social security number either made up or stolen, they pay into a social security system each pay period like everyone else which the IRS happily accepts.  The difference is that those with false social security numbers will never be able to withdraw from social security or receive any of the various benefits like medicare which require a valid social security number," says immigration attorney Amy Lighter.   

So where are we now?

Today the immigration raids have settled down and more and more undocumented immigrants who qualify for deferred action are cautiously coming out of the shadows.  Comprehensive immigration reform was passed in the Senate July 2013 but is still awaiting to be voted on in the House.  The issue has been constantly tabled by Speaker of the House John Boehner, even after acquiring a Republican majority.  Lighter says that Boehner prefers a piecemeal approach to resolving immigration issues which is why he won’t bring comprehensive reform to a vote, in effect angering immigrants from the highly-skilled sector who feel left out of reform. 

Ironically, as a vote on comprehensive reform is delayed ad infinitum, the House DID vote to defund DACA which will now bounce to the Senate (who has already approved comprehensive immigration reform and passed it on to the House). 

The NRA says they support the comprehensive immigration bill the Senate passed in July 2013, and encourages the House to move forward with similar reforms.