France's best cuisine makes for world's weirdest pizza

Honestly I don't know why I'm surprised anymore when I find unusual pizza toppings.  From the moment I saw french fries on pizza IN Italy in a store run by native Italians I surrendered all my pizza expectations.  Ok so it's not the pizza apocalypse, but novel pizza toppings are still a shocker. every. single. time.

In the South East of France in the Drôme region, it's commonplace to use tiny raviolis as a pizza topping.  The mini raviolis called ravioles are a way of life and come in sheets of pockets filled with heavy cream and cheese.  They only take one minute to boil and with their tiny size they can be easily thrown into any dish.

Here are a couple pictures of the ravioles, shown in hand for scale.

I made it down to the South of France with a friend from Paris who was headed to Valence to visit her parents.  When Julie heard I would be alone all weekend with my husband in Germany, she kindly invited me to tag along.  Julie and her dad took me hiking through the Alps to discover the wild nature that you just can't get in the meticulous gardens of Paris.

After the hike, we stopped by a local pizzeria to try the majestic pizza raviole (featured in the first picture).  You'll notice most of the ravioles are kept under the cheese, presumably to keep from drying out.  Ravioles are also used in gratin dishes covered under cheese to protect the delicate dough.  For good measure we got another regional specialty, la pizza montagnarde or mountain pizza.  This pizza was based on ingredients typical of the Alps: potatoes, bacon, ham, swiss cheese, cream and a few olives to finish it off.  In the picture below we have just come back from the hike and I am really happy to be back on flat land, next to a pizzeria. 

 The pizzeria that we visited called la Grand Mere in Valence had a long list of pizza varieties separated into red and white pizzas like many casual pizzerias in France do.  Unfortunately we could not try them all.  Next trip to the South I am getting the pizza with a mustard cream base, as soon as I work up the stomach for it.

Speaking of stomach, I tried some of that too though my own stomach was not too happy about it.  On the way back to Paris we stopped off in Lyon, a city known for the best cuisine in all of France.  I had always heard Lyonnaise cuisine was top notch, so you may imagine the horror as an American discovering that nearly all their specialities consist of consuming large amounts of organ meat.  I ordered the gras double, cow stomach marinated in white wine for ten days before being sliced and sautéed with a whole lot of onion.  This is one local specialty I could do without on top of a pizza.  

What we see in France in pizza is what we see, heck, anywhere in the world - a reclamation of pizza using non-traditional toppings to adapt to what interests the customer.  In France, cream is ever present on the menu and so it's no surprise that many pizzas begin with a cream base.  Even American chains in France like Domino's and Pizza Hut offer about half of their pizzas with crème fraîche in place of pizza sauce.  Pizza raviole offers consumers the ultimate high calorie experience, consisting of nothing but dough, pasta, cream and cheese.

Pizza spinning for French Disney characters not so frightening after all

There are certain advantages to living on the European side of the pond. Freshly baked bread and nice wines on sale for pocket change are great, but most importantly you’re a stone’s throw from the most amazing pizza events in the world.  

Earlier this year at Parizza, Paris’ biggest pizza show, the President of the Federation for French Pizza Makers, Thierry Graffagnino invited me to spin pizza at an event for his organization at EuroDisney in Paris.  

He is a cheery and animated pizzaiolo who only speaks French to me and gestures along with his words.  Thierry was the organizer behind the World Pizza Cup held in EuroDisney 2 years ago, he excitedly told me about what a success it had been.  There were jumbotrons, dancers, an array of professional lights and even masseuses as performers exited the stage.  I smiled, understanding about 70% of what he was saying (did they really have masseuses?) and then he asked me the big question - if I would spin pizza for the French Pizza Federation at EuroDisney in June. 

Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that pizza spinning in exotic locations is one of my all time favorite past times, so of course I said “oui!” to his offer.  Thierry would be making his 3-time award winning pizza and I would spin pizza to entertain the crowd.  The pizza he made was the same recipe that had won competitions in Naples and Parma.  It takes one week to proof and the flour Thierry uses is a special blend which he private labels under his own name.  I was honored to be invited to participate at a high profile location with this award winning French pizza chef.  

The morning of the event I called Thierry to find out some last minute details when I understood that this was no small audience I was performing for, it was the entire personnel at Disney from the ticket takers to the higher-ups in administration.  This is how the conversation went down in French (naturally).  

“Hello, Missy,” he said cheerfully, “are you ready to spin pizza for 8,000 people today?”

“Quoi?,” I returned, “8,000?!”

“Yes, didn’t I tell you? Have you ever spun pizza for 8,000 people before?”

“! Not yet!”   

After we hung up I went into panic mode.  Pulled out as many interesting pieces of clothing I could find, hoping people would look more at my clothes than my pizza spinning.  I found a leather jacket to wear to Michel Jackson’s “Beat It” and a Brazilian flag to incorporate into “Más Que Nada.”

I made it to the Donald Duck security checkpoint, showed my credentials and was waved through into the part of Disney that people rarely spend time in, the behind the scenes Disney, the Disney parking lots.  I parked my car, grabbed my wheelie bag stuffed with costumes and walked to the event. 

When I found Thierry, I discovered that not only was I not performing on stage, but it was not even really IN EuroDisney.  It was a parking lot, made festival for the the EuroDisney staff.  There was a  huge stage but luckily, I would not be on it.  It was used for professional dancers later on in the evening.  My prospects of spinning pizza to Beat It on the same stage where Michael Jackson sung Beat It went from a done deal to nonexistent which I was ok with.  Seriously. 

The evening was amazing.  It was a festival atmosphere where everything was free.  Food trucks, fruit stands, ice-cream wagons and more handed out freebies to the thousands of Disney personnel.  On the big stage, performances stayed steady throughout the evening with singing, dancing and at some point puppets.  By the end of the evening I was exhausted, but happy to have worked with Thierry and his helpers Nicolas and Florent (featured to my right in that order) entertaining a crowd of professional entertainers.  I would definitely do it again.  I can only hope by that point my French will be better.  

Target this demographic when promoting the World Cup

The World Cup is a big deal around the world.  In much of Europe, Latin America and Africa it's 31 days of cheering, drinking and eating.  To cope with the demand for pizza during this month, Domino's in the UK is increasing their staff by a staggering 25%, hiring an extra 1,300 temporary employees all across Great Britain.

However in the U.S., pizza stores are seeing little impact on their sales.  If there is any excitement at all surrounding the World Cup it's coming from communities of expats from Latin America or Europe.

This radical difference in pizza markets is likely a question of football vs. fútbol culture.  I've seen more than a few articles during this World Cup season which aim to educate Americans on soccer and why the world loves it so much.  ABC published an article entitled 5 Questions Americans Have About the World Cup but Are Too Embarrassed to Ask. Pagliacci's pizza posted a fútbol refresher on their website which I and so many other Americans desperately needed.

Although we don't have the historical culture for it, World Cup popularity is on the rise. According to a study by the Pew Research Center 31% of Americans watched at least 20 consecutive minutes of the World Cup in 2010, which is a 19% increase from the previous cup in 2006.

The World Cup really can be a marketing opportunity in the U.S., especially with youngsters and foreign nationals in your town. One blogger, Mac Engel, explains that today's rise in interest in soccer is generational.  Engel says that today's youth really "gets" soccer whereas older Americans prefer baseball, football, or basketball.  This blogger interviewed a bar owner who was surprised that his bar was packed full of young fans supporting the USA against Ghana on Monday.

In a poll taken in PMQ's Think Tank, none of the respondents did anything to promote the World Cup.  Nevertheless, about a 3rd saw a rise in sales during the US vs Ghana game last Monday.

Fun ways to promote


Papa John's gave out pizza for half price when the USA scored 2 points against Ghana.  The promotion was called "Score Twice Half Price."  These kinds of promotions have been solid in baseball, though can sometimes lead to giving out a lot of freebies!

Papa John's was smart to not promise anything free.  The half price deal is only redeemable on 1 large pizza at menu price.

Brazilian Pizza

A limited time menu item is another way to attract a temporary jump in sales.  Customers feel compelled to take advantage of the item while they can and may order more menu items in the process.

In South Korea, Domino's has unveiled a Churrasco Cheese Roll Pizza which combines two of Brazil's typical foods, grilled steak and pão de queijo (rolls made with cheese in the dough).  Fortunately for your customers, you don't have to commit pizza crimes against humanity to show your excitement for Brazil.  Brazil has a rich pizza culture especially in the buzzing metropolis of São Paulo.  See my article on pizza in Brazil after taking a trip to São Paulo with PMQ Publisher and my dad, Steve Green.

Brazilian pizza is typically topping-heavy and the variety of flavors range from too-many to how-could-you-possibly-have-your-food-costs-under-control.  Any standard pizzeria will have 50, 60, or 80 varieties of pizza including several dessert pizzas, seafood pizzas (tuna is big), cream cheese based pizzas and more.

A standard favorite in any pizzeria in Brazil is Pizza Portuguesa which is a pizza topped with ham, crumbled boiled egg, black olives, onion and often but not always, peas.  The combination sounds bizarre but it's surprising delicious, especially if you use fresh peas.  If you try this in your pizzeria or already have it on the menu, please let me know! I would love to know more about how it fares in America.

To promote or not to promote?

 In 2010 the Pew Research Center estimated that 94.5 million Americans saw at least some of the World Cup.  That's 16 million shy of the Super Bowl's viewership of 111 million.  In all honesty, the American soccer team will probably have to get at least to the knockout stage before they rally any kind of real excitement.  If you've got a Latino or European demographic, you may already have customers excited about a promotion for the World Cup.  As a tester, you could offer a special which is not so different from what you might offer for a family but package it as a World Cup game watching package.  If you sell Coca-Cola, check to see if they have any World Cup promotional materials as they are one of a few select sponsors of the matches.

5 Father's Day marketing promos from around the world

Father's Day is a great occasion to promote pizza sales for the whole family.  The U.S. isn't the only country to honor fathers and sell more pizza while they're at it.  Here are 5 Father's Day pizza promotions from around the world in no particular order.  

1. Spain - Making your dad feel uncomfortable 
Telepizza's "pizza with two eggs" was a sure fire attention getting device in 2012.  The promotion mimicked male genitalia with a sliced hotdog and two eggs (eggs being the equivalent of the word "balls" in English).  

The reactions on Facebook were enthusiastic and light-hearted but I can't attest to its overall effectiveness.  The promotion was only available in Southern Spain and hasn't been revived since it was released two years ago. 

2. Belgium - Father's Day as an occasion to dress up in costumes 
In Pizzeria Calabria in Namur, Belgium, Father's Day is a reason to have a costume dance party!  The father with the best costume wins a free meal and everyone has a good time listening to music from the 80s to today.  The pizzeria tells customers that while dressing up is not mandatory, it is certainly fun.  

3. Brazil - Free wine with kids 
In 2010 Pizza Hut Brazil offered a free glass of wine to fathers who brought their children with them to Pizza Hut.  Under the slogan, "children and wine are good for your heart," fathers were required to purchase a meal before they could cash in on their free wine with their kids.  

4. United Arab Emirates - Free meal for dads 
Pizza Express in Fujairah is giving a free meal to dads who bring their children with them to Pizza Express. Like the promotion in Brazil, the store is offering something free to the father when he brings in more customers... in the form of his children.  This kind of promotion can easily bring in a whole family including the mother of the children and other extended relatives.  

5. Kenya - Social media giveaway 
Naked pizza in Kenya challenged their customers to post a picture of their father on Facebook for a chance to win a free meal for the whole family. 

Social media contests are a great way to receive likes on your page since contest apps allow you to require the customer to "like" your page before they can submit an entry.  Once a customer has liked your page, they will be subscribed to your Facebook updates. 

The beauty of the this contest is that it allows the customer base to interact with the brand on a personal level while only giving away one family meal as opposed to a free meal per father.   

Introducing my new last name

Fellow pizza people,

This past Saturday I got married and will be out while I'm on my honeymoon in Belgium and France.  See you again next Sunday, June 15th.  Thank you, Giovanni Landi for making this beautiful pizza of me and my new husband.

Your pizza reporter in the field,

Missy (Green) Assink

5 reasons to do pizza art in store

Over the last few years, pizza art has become huge.  You’ve probably seen circulating pictures of pizzas boasting images of celebrities etched in sauce and cheese on social media or online articles.  Well now in Bari, Italy, you too can become immortalized (briefly) on a pizza yourself.

This February, Pizzeria Friggitoria Capriccio has made personalized pizzas commercially available for anyone who has the patience to order a pizza one whole day in advance.  Customers pay just 20 euros for a pizza personalized with any image of a face or logo engraved in the sauce and cheese, kind of like a cake... but more exciting.  These are often ordered for special occasions like birthdays, Valentine's day, anniversaries or for company sponsors.

The man behind the business plan is Marco Fumai (pictured left), known by his customers in Bari as the Father of pizza art in Italy.  Fumai currently gets about 20 orders per week for these one-of-a-kind pies at Pizzeria Friggitoria Capriccio.  Each one takes about 30 minutes per pizza.  Granted that’s time away from making normal pizzas, Fumai says the owner is pleased with the publicity that Fumai has brought to the store. 

Creating portraits on a pizza, commonly referred to as pizza art began in Glasgow, Scotland with Domenico Crolla.  PMQ featured Crolla and his work in 2012 and he has since done a number of workshops showing people how to make pizza art around the world. 

Here is a slideshow where Crolla spills his secret for how he makes his artistic creations. 

Since the popularity of Crolla’s work, pizza art has grown into mega proportions.  Wilhelm Rodriguez in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico took to doing pizza art to feed his large fan following on social media and he has also made his pizzas commercially available in his store Papa’s Pizza. 

In Italy, a number of pizza makers are following the pizza art trend such as  Giovanni Landi, Attilio Briguglio and Sergio Deiana.  But the first one credited to bring pizza art to Italy is Marco Fumai, inspired by Crolla’s work.

Fumai was not always a pizza maker.  He used to work at Bridgestone making tires until the recession hit and was put out of work. To the right is a picture of the Fumai family. 

Fumai says, "I began working in the pizzeria washing dishes.  When you have a family to support, you can't choose your work.  But I saw that I needed to grow because dishwasher wages won't support a family of four.  I adapted quickly to working in a pizzeria.  I never get a day off work but it doesn't matter, I'm proud of what I do.  God has given me the strength to confront life with a smile."

Since becoming a pizzaiolo, Fumai has enjoyed the connection that making pizza art brings to your community.  "The people in my town love me because they say I'm talented," says Fumai. 

5 reasons to make your own pizza art

1. Social Media booster

Pizza art is great sharable content.  Domenico Crolla began pizza art as a way to bring more attention to his store and found it to be incredibly sharable.  Marco Fumai has reached almost 40,000 likes with his rendition of the Italian politician Beppe Grillo, leader of the 5 star political movement in Italy.  No other pizza art photo has ever reached so many likes on Facebook as Fumai's of Beppe Grillo. 

2. A personal touch

When you’ve got a pizza artist in house, you are bringing a human face to your brand.  Getting a pizza portrait from _____ pizzeria is not as the same as getting a pizza portrait commissioned from a community artist.

Dale Carnegie once said that "a person's name is the sweetest sound."  If we take his tip for winning over people and apply it to pizza, the most delicious pizza is the one with their image on it.  

3. Unique market

There's a lot of pizzerias out there and a lot of competition from chains and independents alike.  If you can offer a personalized pizza with someone’s image and you are the only one in town to do it, you will gain an entire niche of the market. 

4. Sales

Rodriguez and Fumai both confirm that most of their personalized pizza requests are for birthday parties.  Rodriguez gets 10-15 requests per week whereas Fumai gets more like 20.  If a customer is already ordering 1 customized pizza from your store, what do you think they will order for the other birthday guests?  More pizza, of course! 

5. Connection to you community

Fumai has become a legend in his own town.  He has been the first to develop his own trademark called Marco Fumai Art Pizza, celebrating his personality as an artist. Some people even call him a hero for using his pizza art to support Beppe Grillo in the 5 star political movement in Italy.

Although he admits openly supporting a politician has also earned him some enemies, it has brought a lot of media attention to his store and to him as a pizza artist. He is proud to bring something to Pizzeria Friggitoria Capriccio which no other pizzeria in his region offers. Fumai has also been commissioned but the Federation of Italian Pizzamakers in Spain to participate in breaking the Guinness World Record for the longest pizza on September 30th. But he doesn't expect anything big from the future. "I live in the moment," he says. "The most important thing is supporting my family."

Brits feel nauseous when they discover how their chicken pizza was prepared

Last year around Ramadan time, I wrote a post about how introducing halal meats to your menu could be a way to attract Muslim customers to your restaurant.

But a recent controversy at the British pizza chain Pizza Express is showing how halal products can be bad for business, mainly if you don't tell your customers that's what you're serving them.

Pizza Express made the headlines in the UK for having quietly sold halal certified chicken for years to its customers.  Halal chickens differ from other chickens in that they have been killed in accordance with the Islamic slaughter ritual which includes slitting the chicken's throat with a sharp object and saying a prayer to Allah during the bloodletting.  The news about Pizza Express' chicken has provoked controversy, rolling of eyes and the hashtag #BoycottPizzaExpress.

So what's so bad about blessed chicken? Upset consumers say that companies like Pizza Express are using the ritual slaughter clause in British law to bypass compliance with animal cruelty legislation.  British law requires that animals are stunned before being slaughtered but makes an exception for halal and kosher meat.  In the throws of the controversy, Pizza Express has made it expressly clear that their chickens are stunned before slaughter and that it is "no secret" their chicken is halal because it is written on their FAQ page of the website (but nowhere on their menu).

In the U.S., unlike in the UK, chickens aren't protected by ANY humane slaughtering laws, halal or not.  All species of poultry are excluded from provisions which require livestock to be stunned before slaughter according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Despite the fact that Pizza Express' halal chickens comply with mainstream British law concerning animal welfare, customers feel the sting of deception.  In today's information age, customers take an active role in wanting to know more about where their food comes from and how it was prepared.  Only last year the UK was the first country in Europe to discover horse meat being passed off as beef.  It goes without saying that the British confidence in food labeling has got to be low by now.

The "halal hysteria" has been called evidence of creeping Sharia law in the UK by some British media.  One journalist on Yahoo news headlined  his article "Pizza Express Adopts Sharia Law in all UK Restaurants..."  Such inflammatory articles remind British readers that about 200 Subways in the UK removed all pork products from their menu to please their Muslim customer base.  The trend to move to halal-only products is not only in the UK.

I noticed in Paris that it's not uncommon for restaurants to forfeit pork-based products altogether and use substitutions like turkey bacon (which just isn't the same on a burger, I'm afraid).  I spoke with a friend from France, Franck, on the subject as we ordered crepes together.  He ordered the halal turkey crepe (there was no non-halal turkey on the menu).  I ordered Nutella and bananas.  Reading about chicken slaughter in preparation for this blog had my stomach turned whether they are slaughtered humanely or otherwise.

I asked Franck how he felt about eating halal products as someone who doesn't practice any religion and he truly didn't mind eating halal meat.  Franck then pointed out that it's only in the age of factory farming that we have begun to stun animals before slaughter.  "Killing a chicken while it's fully conscious is the way people have been slaughtering chickens for a long, long time," he said as he took another bite of his halal turkey crepe.

Advocates of halal products say that Pizza Express makes their products accessible to both Muslims and non-Muslims by making all chicken halal.  In addition, halal meats largely comply with standard British animal cruelty laws.  Paul Vallely from the Independent writes that the numbers of halal-slaughtered animals who are killed without being stunned is very low. "97 per cent of cattle, 96 per cent of poultry and 90 per cent of sheep slaughtered under halal procedures in British abattoirs are stunned before being killed to make them insensible to pain and distress," writes Vallely.  Vallely submits that Britain's halal hysteria is nothing more than Islamaphobia.

There are also those who are not opponents nor advocates, just people who believe restaurants and retailers need to be clear about what they are selling.  Period.

Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from Pizza Express is that serving halal products has the potential to include Muslims in your community.  However, it should be stated on the menu along with a description of what it means to be halal.  Since the U.S. has no regulation of how to humanely slaughter chicken anyhow, there is little reason for your customers to believe serving halal meat would be viewed as any more cruel than traditional factory farming.  Most of all, it's important to know what demographic of people you are serving and if they'd be interested in halal at all!  For those who are squeamish addressing the subject at all, you might want to stick to your veggie pizzas as your option for halal observers.
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