July 1, 2012 |

Ask Big Dave: The Artisan Movement

By Dave Ostrander

artisan pizza

Q: What’s up with the whole ‘Artisan’ pizza movement?

Sarah Matchell Des Moines, Iowa via Twitter

A: In my entire lifetime of living in the world of pizza, I cannot remember a time like the present. Our industry is in the middle of a revolution. From coast to coast and around the world, cutting edge pizzaiolos and the public have turned back to the basics. The basics with an upscale edge, that is.

I see our industry at a tipping point. I can always envision traditional pizza being the mainstay. Not much has changed since my favorite Uncle Ralph surprised my family with a pizza party over 50 years ago. I can still recall that “Oh, Wow” moment when I took my second bite. I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment was defining for me. Ten years later, I was making and baking pizzas at a new place on Seven Mile Road that opened in Detroit in the mid 60’s. A few years later, I somehow managed to open my own place. Back then, pizza truly was Artisan. Dough was made every day from flour and water and a few basic ingredients. Sauce was seasoned and spiced using carefully guarded recipes. We shredded or diced our cheeses every day. Remember the aromas in the kitchen? Pepperoni was not even available pre sliced. We sliced it on meat slicers or through a cutter that attached to the front end of our dough mixer. All of our veggies were hand cut with real chef’s knives in the backroom every day. These pizzas of yesteryear are getting harder and harder to find.

Pizza’s popularity drove the industry to invent new ways to make and bake more in less time. The pizzaiolos were slowly replaced with assembly line persons that topped prepared dough and baked them through a tunnel in an automated oven. The industry could barely keep up with the demand. Big multinational franchises started to own the market and positioned their style of pizza as the norm. School kids everywhere were conditioned to accept cookie cutter, pre-prepped pizza as the real deal.

The passion for the product was almost lost. However, a small group of old-school pizza makers refused to lower the bar on the product by taking every short cut imaginable. Today, thankfully, there’s resurgence in this very direction.

Can you remember the last time you made an ‘Oh, Wow’ pie? I truly hope it was today. Your customers are becoming more and more sophisticated with their expectations. Sure, people will always buy belly fillers — but once you get a craving for a truly hand-crafted, Artisan Pizza … Well, everything else becomes second and third choice.

When I think Artisan, I think of scratch-made, handcrafted and all natural. Artisan, to me, simply means treating food the way it should be treated each step of the preparation and baking process and never taking shortcuts that compromise the food in any way. It takes time to develop flavor. When companies focus on production efficiencies rather than quality, that product will never win 1st prize in any of the contests I have been in. Period.

As my good friend Tony Gemignani says, “Respect the Craft … and the Craftsman.”

Now is the time to start experimenting with new offerings and creating some truly “Oh, Wow” pies. Your customers are hungry for them.

Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today.