Research & Development: An In-house Approach

cutting brussel sprouts, kitchen prepWhen I decided to open my first pizzeria, I knew exactly what style of pizza I wanted to make: Roman style — the thin, crispy crust with a small gum line and just enough sponge for the guest to taste the flavor of the crust but not have it overwhelm the sauce or toppings.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it was in the beginning because I had just returned from living in Italy and I knew how to make the dough and bake it to perfection. The only problem was deciding on toppings outside of the traditional pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms. How do I make my pizza stand out from the rest? That’s where this story really begins.

I often get asked the question, “how did you come up with this recipe?” The truth is a lot of my recipes start when I taste an ingredient in another dish and think, “Can I put that on a pizza? What do I pair it with? Is it profitable?”

These are important questions a chef has to answer, along with the financial side of “the biz,” — because if you cannot make a new recipe that keeps your food cost at an acceptable percentage, then “the biz” suffers, right?

Research is key when I create a new recipe. I look for ingredients that are “trending” in the culinary world. I research top chefs around the world to see what they are cooking with and what they think will be relevant in the coming year. There are many Web sites you can read. I usually just Google “food trends” and you will be amazed what pops up! This is where your creativity knows no limits. I am not putting frog legs on any pizzas in the near future, but one thing I keep in mind is the demographic of where my pizzeria is located, local flavors, farm-to-table sustainability and, of course, national food awareness topics, such as gluten-free products. This is how I start –– with an idea that is researched. Then the fun begins.

I like to get into the kitchen early (I’m talking 6 a.m. or so!) because I know I will be alone and uninterrupted. The development of a new recipe starts the minute you put pencil to paper. Yep, that’s right –– I write everything down as I mix ingredients so I have notes to follow for a final recipe. Developing a new recipe is easy for an independent operator because we do not have the same guidelines franchisees do. We are free to experiment and create and that is really the definition of “development,” at least for me. Mixing, dicing and blending flavors together until you get it right — that’s the pay off.

menu signDo I need help? Of course. Everyone needs help and I always go to my sous chefs and prep cooks for their opinion on finalizing a recipe. You never know when a team member will jump in with a technique that will take your recipe to the next “flavor” level. To tell you the truth, it never hurts to experiment with your kitchen crew because they usually are brutally honest about the good and the bad. Collaboration is great, but you are still putting your name on the recipe. The final product is always my responsibility and it has to be great.

You know that old saying about an opinion, right? Everyone has one! When it comes to a new recipe, the more opinions the better, so when I think I have a finished product the first people I ask to try it is my staff. Making it a fun project will help encourage honest feedback. It’s free food, and who doesn’t like that? After a long shift, it’s perfect timing for the staff to sit down and eat together, joke and have fun. When I leave the conversation open to staff to think outside the box, I get feedback all the time, so much so that I have a Staff Suggestion Box in the break room. Also, there is a reward for participation — gift cards, a little cash or just a nice dinner for everyone after shift.

Once you’ve beta-tested it, it’s time to see if the recipe really works, will sell and is profitable. I now have a recipe that not only tastes great, but I know exactly how much of each ingredient I will use because I have taken notes the entire way through development. I also keep my food cost in the range of 18 percent to 24 percent and I do not waiver from those figures, so here is a short list of how I determine a new recipe:

  • Each ingredient is portioned to determine the amount and cost.
  • Once this is done, I price the new recipe item accordingly.
  • If the food cost is within acceptable levels then I continue.
  • I try and cross utilize ingredients so costs are low.

Next is procedure. I have to make the new recipe work in my time frame. I can’t have one pizza taking too much time to make! If all this works, it’s time to run it as a special. We blast announce it on our social network first and run a few daily specials to determine popularity and feasibility. This determines if we continue to make it and add it to the menu.

Glenn Cybulski owns Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria in Santa Barbara, California. He is a member of the World Pizza Champions and a speaker at International Pizza Expo.

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