Beautiful Bechamel

In 2002, my menu consisted of cheap deals, 23 toppings, one sauce, one crust type, no specialty pizzas, no calzones and no wings. I advertised how good my product was but got tired of tell­ing customers, “That’s all we have, take it or leave it.”Then one day I changed my menu mix in a big way with the help of Porsche and BMW.

That day, the radio declared that the two companies were making cars for yuppies who earned from $50,000 to $70,000 a year. This technique of sales was called “tiered pricing” and offered cars that were smaller and cheaper but sold like hotcakes, ensuring extra revenue for the makers. I decided to try this in inverse and immediately introduced 10 specialty pizzas with four toppings apiece. I priced them higher than if they were ordered by topping only. The food cost was 27 percent but I didn’t have to discount them and sold them in large, small and calzone versions.

Now, ten years later, I have 53 toppings in my menu mix. all of these toppings in my 30-plus spe­cialty pizzas appeal to the following customers:

  • Those who watch televised culinary shows (such as “Iron Chef” and “Top Chef”) and have sophisticated palates.
  • Those who love ethnic foods such as Chinese, Indian, Italian, French, Japanese, Greek, Vegetarians and vegans
  • Gluten intolerant customers
  • Older adults with dietary restrictions
  • Risk takers

One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to introduce a béchamel. It’s easy to make this savory sauce alternative either from scratch, a powder or frozen. a case of frozen béchamel at $50 can yield 240 two-ounce portions at .21 cents each pizza. here are some of the best combinations paired with béchamel for an explosive base on any pie:

  • Cheeses. They melt to perfection, stretch­ing their savory flavors more economically than if you had strewn a two-dollar handful of expensive cheese on the pie. feta, asiago, Gorgonzola, cheddar and Gruyere are favorites in my store. Just a few ounces can produce a flavor explosion.
  • Pestos/sauces. Basil, sun-dried, chipotle, Indian masala, Jamaican jerk and teriyaki are now available. Pestos are frozen for under $55 for six-30 ounce containers and can be cut with a 70/20 mix of water depending upon the intensity, or you can make it yourself. Just squeeze atop the béchamel and top with cheese.
  • Powders and onions. Super fab combo! Con­sider cumin, curry, chipotle and paprika shaken on onions and drizzled with oil. run it through your oven until they are soft. Mix with béchamel or grind up to a sauce then mix.

All this may sound expensive to employ, but I’ve done it for 10 years now. I watch my food cost like a hawk but I also have a better roI (return on investment) from new and exciting pizzas than from expensive ads telling customers how great my products are. Besides –– beating the chains with cu­linary innovation is more fun than mimicking their moves. It’s just a matter of show rather than tell.

The classic béchamel sauce is more than 300 years old, and it can be the base for many other sauces (including alfredo). Check out the recipe at right. once you’ve got it down, it can be custom­ized to include bay leaves, fresh nutmeg, cheeses, egg yolks, onion and other ingredients.

John Gutekanst owns avalanche Pizza in athens, ohio. he is also a speaker at International Pizza expo and a member of the World Pizza Champions.

BAKED SPAGHETTI WITH BECHAMEL SAUCE

1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup Parmesan cheese (or Parmesan Reggiano), divided
Marinara sauce
12 ounces spaghetti, cooked tender
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 cup béchamel sauce

In a bowl, stir ricotta cheese, egg and ¾ cup Parmesan cheese. In a baking dish, layer cooked spaghetti, half of the ricotta cheese mixture and 1/3 cup moz­zarella cheese. Repeat with one more layer. Drizzle with bécha­mel sauce and top casserole with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Bake at 450 for 25 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Cook’s notes: You can use a Bo­lognese sauce with this recipe, or advertise it as vegetarian. Watch baking times, since your pizza oven is likely to bake at different temperatures.

BRUNO’S BRUNCH PIZZA

1 cup béchamel sauce
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 12-inch pizza shell
4 3-inch-diameter slices Canadian bacon
1/2 pound mild cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

Make the béchamel sauce following the steps in the base recipe. Set aside. In a small non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat until it just starts to foam. Stir in the eggs and scramble just until the eggs are set. Set aside. Spread the béchamel sauce evenly over the pizza shell up to the border (leave about 1/4 inch of border). Arrange the Canadian bacon slices evenly over the pizza. Spread the eggs evenly over the bacon. Sprinkle on the cheese. Bake.

PAT BRUNO’S
BECHAMEL SAUCE

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
Combine until all ingredients are well mixed. (Thickness depends on your ratio of flour to milk and butter.)
Once you’ve got the basic sauce down, you can customize your pizza and pasta dishes.

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