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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

We triple dog dare you to compete in Shanghai's Triple Panel Pizza Challenge

PMQ and the U.S. Pizza Team are gearing up for a far out adventure in the far east.  Celebrating its 10th year, the Chinese Pizza Championship and PMQ China are adding a thrice enticing pizza competition into the Pizza Pavilion at the FHC food show in Shanghai.

For the first time in pizza history, pizzaiolos will present their pies to a judging trifecta.  Three separate panels composed of judges from different countries (USA, Italy and China) will judge each competition pizza according to their own native tastes.  Awards will be given for the highest ranking pizza for each national panel as well as a highest score overall.  The competition is open to any pizza maker with the gumption to take on the challenge, and especially those interested in knowing how their pizza may be received in different markets.

For example, a strong flavored cheese may be praised by the American judges but displeasing to the Chinese and possibly to the Italians.  Whereas a strong fish taste would likely be voted down by Americans, yet celebrated by Italians and admired by the Chinese.  Submitting your pizza to all three panels will give invaluable feedback on foreign preferences for crust consistency, texture and taste.

The Triple Panel Pizza Challenge will take place inside the FHC (Food Hospitality China) show, the largest domestic show in China, this November 11-13 in Shanghai.  The Pizza Pavilion, put together by PMQ China will consist of a huge competition area set off in the red box on the map. There will be pizza tossing demos, a rest area for the competitors, a large space for judging and the audience. See photos and info from last year's competition where Steve Green was a judge in a Pizza Without Borders post here.

The map here displays only one hall of the seven which specializes in imported foods, bakery and ice-cream, beer, wine, meat, coffee & tea and the culinary arts.  

But it's not all business.  Join us for several excursions along the way to help you get the most out of your Chinese adventure.  Shanghai is rich with an eclectic mix of ancient brick and wildly modern colored lights.  Team members who come along will enjoy a relaxing cruise down the Huangpu River and a peaceful visit to a picturesque water town called Wuzhen.  You can shop for ingredients at local markets, visit old temples or try some adventurous foods!

The official PMQ Chinese pizza tour happens November 9-15th and includes hotel, tour bus transportation and most meals for the low price of $1215 per person.  This does not include the competition registration fee of $250 nor airfare.

Space is limited to 25 seats and a Chinese visa from the consulate is required, so book soon!  You may contact Caroline Felker to reserve your seat at 662-801-0878 or email her at Caroline (at) pmq (dot) com.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

5 secrets to Denmark’s million dollar pizza shop

In Copenhagen’s bustling airport, Gorm’s pizzeria is booming.  In the past two months alone they've racked up 1.4 million U.S. dollars in sales.  I spoke with head chef, world champion pizza maker and kitchen efficiency architect Mike Arvblom on how runs what he calls "Denmark's million dollar pizza shop."
Left: Mike Arvblom, Master Pizza Chef at Gorm's
Right: Gorm, Owner of Gorm's and TV Chef

Firstly, Mike has some serious credentials in the pizza industry.  His life-long and varied experience in pizza brought to this high point in his career. He is a Swede born in Beverly Hills, son of an engineer gone rogue for making pizza. With technical skills and passion for the industry, Mike’s father, John Arvblom showed Mike from infancy how to run a shop, how to read blue prints, design a kitchen, motivate staff and most importnatly make the pizzeria a successful, viable booming business. Together with his father Mike built pizzerias from the ground up in L.A., Sweden and even Budapest, builiding them, running them and selling them a year later, gaining a wealth of knowledge (and money!) along the way.

Without further ado, here are the top 5 things to look for in a milion dollar pizza shop. 

1. Smart Kitchen Layout

Time is money so each moment counts in the kitchen. Set up your equipment to minimize the distance your staff needs to go to make an order.  Mike gives this example:

"Take for example the proximity of the make table to the oven. If the oven is 3 steps away, that will make it 6 steps each time a staff member goes to the oven and back, roughly 6 secs per pie. Don't forget that there will be constant checking to make sure the pizza doesn't burn as well which could take away another 6 seconds of time.

Let’s say you make 700 pizzas in one day. That means 700 times putting a pizza in, 700 times pulling it out and 700 times going to and from the oven to check the pizza. That’s 700 X 4 = 2,800 sets of 3 steps/seconds equaling 280 minutes or 4.6 hours that have been lost simply by placing the pizza oven far away.   Instead you can use that 280 min some where else saving on labor cost plus your staff won't get as tired walking to and from the oven."

Mike learned this valuable lesson working in Malmö, Sweden’s busiest pizza store. The oven was right next to the make table and the pies were flying fast from the kitchen.
Jannis and Evelina, two Swedish pizza champions

2. Modern Equipment

"Nothing beats a hand tossed pizza and while the tradition and craft of pizza still has it’s rightful place, it’s important to respect the evolution of the pizza industry," says Mike. "Never limit yourself to certain ideas." 

Mike compares a handcrafted pizza to a manual screw driver which gives you full control while the new generation of pizza equipment is fast and easy to use.

At Gorm’s, Mike points out two pieces of equipment which he finds exceptionally useful, an oven with a quick recovery time and a hot pizza press. The oven that he’s found is Swedish made and he says the recovery time is nearly instant. It’s a 3 deck oven with a patented design whose quick recovery time “has never let them down” at their incredibly busy store.

"The hot press helps the pizzas cook and the oven to recover faster since it warms the dough to room temperature before going into the oven. The press opens 10-12 doughs per minute. Which goes to the make table capable of preparing 20 pizzas on and then in the oven which can hold up to 18 pizzas."

3. Communication

Communication is vitally important in the kitchen so that food can come out on time, at the same time. At Gorm’s there is not just pizza, there is also pasta and sides which need to be coordianted. The staff making pizza face directly the people at the pasta/sides station. When there is a pizza order with a pasta or side, the pasta staff is alerted when the pizza is in the oven so they know right away how much time they have to prepare the rest of the order. 

4. Make it fun and it will get done!

Having the workers face each other is not only good for communciation, but it facilites bonding and a playful attitude.

“With my experience when you are having fun time goes faster and you are having fun. We crack jokes to each other, make up new names to each other or different words which many times don't make sense,” Mike says.

He’s developed nicknames for all his staff members from Swedish Viking to Habubi (little squishy one in Arabic) or Ninja and affectionally refers to all of them as his happy warriors. Some of the phrases they use are “fire in the hole!” when the pizza is in the oven or when the ninja leaves the kitchen Mike mystically says, “ninja vanish.”

5. Strong staff makes a great business

When Mike considers hiring a new employee to work at Gorm’s, the résumé is trival he says. 

“I don't care which school they've been to or where they worked.  There's only one thing, how fast they are and how well do they work. I put them one day in the pit to see how well they function with the others. If they pass then they are hired.

Hightech pizza making equipment at a super speed won't matter if you don't have the right people to run it. Our record sales could not have been done with out my super speed crew! Thanks to them it works great, without them it is not possible. I always tell them it's a real honor to work with happy warriors like them! A great staff is key to a humble, fast kitchen.

Most of the staff is hand picked by me, since I'm a fast food junky I'm always out eating and looking at the work setup and their speed. That how I have found most of my workers. I saw them in action handling multiple stations with no sweat. It’s like when an American baseball team scout goes out and looks for talented baseball players for the team, but in this case it was pizza makers for me. I have 12 pizza chefs and 3 part time and 4 renta chefs on the Gorm's airport pizza team."

As the creator of the National Swedish pizza team, Mike brought on board national champions like Jannis and Evelina who both placed silver in National Swedish competitions, and Petrut (11th place in Scandinavia).  He also brought on board his brother Daniel Arvblom, continuing on the family business. 

Some final tips

Never limit yourself, use any technique that works, never limit yourself to one idea. Go to events and expos. Work on efficiency but never cut quality.  Stay humble. "Gorm is a humble person, just like pizza," says Mike.

"I think with SSP Denmark's great knowlege in the food business, Gorm's secret delicious crunchy pizza recipe, my humble national pizza team, the other great pizza chefs on board in the kitchen and my high speed kitchen layout making sales in minutes, is a great success, I would call it the million dollar pizza shop.

I would like to give a special thanks to my chefs for their amazing work and that it’s an honor to standby next to them and get blasted away with nonstop orders."

Next year Gorm’s plans to increase sales even more by 10-15 percent. Mike has already calculated one or two ways to shave off time in the kitchen moving customers in and out of the dining area at a faster rate. Arvblom also plans to introduce fun superlative awards (Best Service, Sexiest Pizza, Best Team Worker) to express his sincere gratitude and keep the atmosphere always light-hearted.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Baguette vending machine in Paris is REAL

Not far from the Eiffel tower, you can find this handy little machine.  Attached to a bakery, these vending machines store nearly finished baguettes in their interior refrigeration.  All you have to do is put in 1 euro and wait 15 seconds for the baguette to pop out of the bottom.  The beauty of these machines is that it allows the French to work even less hours!  

Joking aside, French bakers work hard, long hours.  Most tend to take a day off once a week.  This picture was taken on a Sunday.  Fortunately now they don't have to leave you high and dry or... hungry anyway.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

5 weird things French people do to pizza

This week I’ll be leaving chère Paris and moving to my husband’s hometown in Utrecht, the Netherlands.  Will I miss Paris?  Of course. I’ll miss being able to buy fruits and vegetables at the convenience stores and outside metro stops.  I’ll miss the communal bike system.  I’ll miss the butter infused air outside of bakeries.  I’ll miss people shaking thier head and saying “oh la la” with a menacing pucker of their lips.  

So now that I’m leaving, it’s only right to acknowledge them and in all their odd pizza glory expressed in the 5 following tendencies which are pretty dang French.

1. The cracked egg on top

French people tend to use eggs like Americans use sprigs of parsely.  You can never be sure when one will appear on your food at a restaurant.  It will be notoriously runny, a signature on galettes and steak tartar, some French people throw them on pizzas too.

Pizza Margherita "avec" egg

Traditional galette with a runny yolk

2. Extreme proofing times
Many of the most valued French products come from some process of aging.  Bread is made with old strains of mother yeast, wine ages in the cellar, cheese in caves and truffles take years growing in the ground.  The slower method is generally seen as the most delicious and most precious in French culture.  Corporate Chef at Galbani cheese Bruno Bertrand let his pizza rest for 11 days before serving it topped with Galbani at the Parizza food show.  He explained that over time, the fermentation process will give the dough a rich and distinct aroma due to the alcohol that develops in the dough after proofing for days upon days.  French love the taste of alcohol, just look at all their
cognac sauces, coq au vins and boeuf bourguignons.

3. Pizzerias regularly close for a month in August

I recently heard that Paris is the most visited city in the world and least revisited.  Perhaps tourists don't come back because in Paris, the customer is not king. During the month of August you will be hard pressed to find stores open even for your daily baguette, much less to find a pizza.  Where have they all gone?  Parisians notoriously find their way to the beach during the month of August leaving the few lunch places open for business slammed at lunch time.   This place is closed the entire month of August.  Boo.  

4. White pizzas are as popular as red sauce 

White pizzas are gaining some traction in the U.S. but in France it’s been mainstream for a while.  Menus are organized simply into cream-based pizzas and tomato based pizzas.  On the cream-based pizzas, toppings tend to get scarily lavish which brings me to my next point…

5. Unthinkably caloric toppings

Potatos, bacon, cream and cheese is a completely normal topping combination at a pizzeria in Paris (and they call Americans fat??) Truth be told, French people love their white carbs, salted butter and cream. I’m told this is why they need red wine, to cancel it all out. One of my favorite high-calorie pizzas comes from the South of France where they are known for putting tiny raviolis filled with cream sandwiched between a layer of cream and cheese. It’s called pizza raviole and it's as delicious as it is redundant. Next to it is a pizza with bacon and potatoes.

Until next time when I'll be reporting from the Netherlands.  Pizza be with you!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

3 tips for a more efficient pizzeria from a Dutch fast casual

The Dutch never fail to impress me and why wouldn't they?  They've been notorious traders and businessmen for centuries, yet so humble you would never know.  When they find a good concept they make it efficient, practical and generally adorable.

I visited an impressive upcoming chain in Utrecht, the Netherlands called "da Portare Via" which translates to "take away" in Italian.  In the Netherlands, Italian style pizza is still regarded as the ultimate sought after pizza style but American models dominant when it comes to running a business.

Below find 3 ways da Portare Via excels in efficiency.

1. Keeping the pizzeria open for breakfast, lunch and dinner

I first heard John Arena of Metro Pizza propose the idea of keeping a pizzeria open all day.  Arena has mastered the art of baking so he manages to maximize the use of his kitchen and space to make baked goods for morning customers.  Da Portare Via offers eggs baked in the oven for breakfast as well as the classical Dutch breakfast of yogurt and muesli.  At any time of the day customers are drawn in to the store with "ESPRESSO 1 EURO" written largely on their store front window. 

2. Going cashless

The first cashless restaurant I ever saw was Brewers Beer Bar in Gothenburg, Sweden.  I posted about it in the Think Tank and got mixed responses. 

"Until it 'costs' more to accept cash then CC's i will continue to keep taking cash," stated d9phoenix. 
"Your time is worth money, so as long as you spend time counting and going to the bank to deposit cash, there will always be costs involved with it as well," retorted Hometown Pizza in a feisty exchange! 

At Da Portare Via it didn't bother them charging a 1 euro expresso through their credit card machine.  In fact debit cards (PIN) are much more prevalent in the Netherlands than credit cards.  SOME people don't even have credit cards - by choice.  On top of that, all the public transport in Utrecht has officially gone cashless where you can pay by text message or with your transport card but not with actual money!  

But it's not all doom and gloom and financial apocalypse.  There are certainly advantages to only taking cards including less risk of theft and a clear paper trail.  In the Netherlands and most of Europe (and gosh, nearly every other country I've traveled to), paying by card means that the waiter will come to your table with an electronic device to charge your card in front of you. The U.S. is the only place, with few exceptions, where it's standard practice for waiters to take your credit card out of eye sight from the customer, doing this multiple times per day.  Now when I visit the U.S. I feel nervous when the server takes my card away.  

3. Serving dessert in to-go containers 

Aren't you tired of customers ordering dessert and then wanting to take the rest to go?  It makes you angry doesn't it? Just kidding.  The Netherlands has never been much of a "to go box" type culture.  Most places in Europe will tell you that "doggy bags" are an American thang and we just need to get over it and clear our plates.  

But times are a' changing in the lowlands, where restaurant owners are taking note that customers appreciate being able to take their left over food home.  Either that or Da Portare Via serves their desserts in to-go containers as a not-so-subtle way of encouraging customers to move along, as if the name of the pizzeria weren't obvious enough.

Though their concept is largely based on efficiency, Da Portare Via does a great job not making it feel that way.  Dining in is a great experience with a super light and delicious wood-fired pizza in a cozy hand-crafted atmosphere.  For the Dutch, efficiency is just a way of life, no need to be sterile about it.  

Here's a couple more ways da Portare Via goes above and beyond to make their customers feel welcome in their store.  

Kid-sized pizzas get fun cartoon designs on them.  Adults get a branded box.

Light crispy crust, closer to a New York style than Italian.  But that didn't come from ME. 

Live basil plants sit at the window between the customers and the kitchen.

Personalized artwork hangs in the bathroom

Fresh cut flowers on the table
Heerlijk! Which means "delicious!" one of the first words I learned in Dutch.  

Hand-written and hand drawn menus are nice.

Pink bandanas for everyone takes the cuteness level up several notches. 
My husband and I are moving to Utrecht in August where we will get to have many more escapades
to come at da Portare Via.  Can't wait!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

3 marketing ideas from wood-fired pizza shops in London

You might not have guessed it, but two years ago London was awarded an international prize for harboring the most delicious food in the world which was (no surprise) pizza!  The pizza was an Italian style Margherita created with Italian flour with a crunchy Roman more than Neapolitan base. 

In my recent visit to London I discovered that this was no accident.  This winner of the prize wasn't Italian, but there is no shortage of Italian influence in London.  Italian could be heard on the bright red double decker buses, on the streets and most frequently inside of pizzerias.  

In the 2 of the 3 pizzerias, the wait staff was all Italian and many of the customers too.  The ingredients were authentic, using flour from Naples and buffalo mozzarella.  Most notably, all 3 pizzerias that I visited took pride in using impressive wood-fired ovens.  So here they are in no particular order. 

Pizza Pilgrims: Pizza making kits to go

Pizza Pilgrims was perhaps the most fanatical about making authentic pizza.  The premise of the restaurant began when two Englishmen took a trip around Italy on a pizza pilgrimage to discover the secrets of making Italian pizza.  I was hoping to speak to one of the owners during my impromptu visit but they weren't around.  The pizza makers at the shop, were Antimo and Antonio, two pizziolos from Italy.  Hey, that's another way to make authenic Italian food abroad, import your chefs!

At Pizza Pilgrims I had my first ever marinara pizza which was amazing, so saucy! Along with a buffalo mozzarella pie served to me by an Italian waitress.  It was way too much pizza for one person, but it was worth it.  Especially because I was able to see their take away pizza box which was unlike any other.

Logo stamp on the outside
Generic pizza box on the inside! Those tricksters.

Pizza Pilgrims offered a take and bake in a format I had never seen.  For 10 pounds sterling customers can get two fresh dough balls, mozzarella, olive oil, tomato sauce, parmesan and basil all in an easy kit to be cooked in a frying pan.

This method looks to be a lot easier than traditional methods of take and bake which requires altering the yeast depending on how long of a shelf life you're going for.  Also you won't have to get a shrink wrap machine and staff can prep a couple of these kits in advance.

La Parpadella: No dough goes to waste 

This pizzeria came as a recommendation from White's Foodservice Equipment based in the UK who helped bring one of Italy's finest ovens to their store.  The head pizzaiolo proudly showed off the Marana Forni which has been built into the very wall of the kitchen.  The oven works dually with gas and/or wood.  The oven doesn't just rotate, as Marana Fornis have been popularized for, the base will also lift or descend so pizza makers have full control over temperature.  Oh yeah, and it shoots gigantic flames like a blow torch.

Oh joy! The rotating base is controlled with a joy stick.  
This waitress took these pizzas from
a small window that sits at the top
of the kitchen, taking them
upstairs to the dining area. 

Left over pizza dough that would normally get tossed out is made
into loaves of bread.

Homeslice Pizza: Wine by the inch

Next on the menu was a visit to Homeslice which was recommended to me by a gentleman who works for Yelp London and personally takes pride in giving restaurant recommendations. Homeslice was created around the wood fired pizza concept too.  The oven was built homemade and cooks up non traditional pizzas.  Needlessly to say, I didn't hear any Italian spoken here, but the pizza was great.  
Custom built wood-fired oven. 
When you order wine you get a HUGE bottle and you only pay
for what you drink.   The wine glasses were marked so you know
roughly how much you're paying.  Glass and a half? No problem!

This pizza had mushrooms, soy sauce and pumpkin seeds. :) 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

4 weird food items from American chains in Europe

With all the crazy foods American chains come up with in Europe, it's no wonder Europeans don't give Americans the culinary cred they deserve.  Here are 4 that I've spotted in Italy and France. 

Pizza Hut’s Bacon/Cheese Stuffed Crust 

If you caught wind of last week’s PMQ news round up, you’d see that Pizza Hut has been spreading the pork around in more ways than one, primarily with hotdog bites enveloped in the crust. 

Just a speck of speck

In France the portk stuffing has come the form of a bacon and cheese stuffed crust.  I ordered the pizza to my apartment in Paris and found it nearly as disappointing as the staff at the Daily Beast found the hotdog pizza crust.  I have to admit though that my biggest “beef” was that there was hardly any bacon at all! What a disappointment. 

Domino's Raclette Pizza

Raclette is the gooey, melty pale yellow cheese notorious around the Alps.  It’s like fondue, typically served in the winter time and in no short supply in typical French cuisine.  This is Domino’s attempt to create a pizza using regional ingredients, their way of alluring the French with that "je ne sais quoi, we’re not just another big ole American chain serving you crazy inventions like bacon in pizza crusts" kind of attitude. 

Le Florida & Beef

As part of their American Summer sandwich line, Mcdonald's France has launched Le Florida & Beef sandwich which is a double-patty burger with salsa and tortilla chips inside.  

Of course any customer might be hesitate to order this, which is perhaps why their slogan is "Don't wait, succumb!" 

Italy's McLobster

And the most obscure of the 4 goes to McDonald’s McLobster available exclusively during the Milan Expo.  I once saw some publicity for chic menu item on trip to Canada's East coast.  Much in the way Domino’s is trying their hand at regional cheeses in France, McDonald’s was supporting the local economy and tastes with their lobster item.  But in Milan?  That’s got to be just to show off.