The pizza game changes just about daily
These are confusing times, my friends. Every day it seems like something new is trending. Today everybody’s talking about thin crust bar pies, but by tomorrow morning we will have moved on to super thick Sicilian. Most of the credit belongs to a combination of clickbait articles and our insatiable thirst for the dopamine hits they promise, but beneath the cacophony exist some very real contenders for deliciousness. How can we possibly differentiate between food and fad? I’ve got some thoughts.
Let’s start by taking a look at what makes a fad. This is where I file shock factor pizzas with gross-out toppings and high gimmick value. Food like this is usually created by a PR firm and not someone with kitchen experience. Freaky pizzas exist merely to attract attention and they do a pretty good job at that. But if you’re not the first person to make waves with an insane taco pizza, don’t waste your time trying to copy someone else’s. Leave it to the big chains to stuff hotdogs into their crust. They do it because they know it will reach more eyes than it will stomachs. If a pizza is challenging or overwhelming, it’s just a flash in the pan and we don’t think much about it in a few weeks.
Real trends have something the fads lack: sustainability. When I think of the recent trends that have stuck around, I see that they all involve simple tweaks. The return of natural-casing pepperoni, the popularity of cheesy artichoke dip topping, the use of honey and the burnt, cheesy edge of a Detroit-style pizza are all trending because they’re simple. It’s hard for something difficult to catch on. Unnecessary complexity directs an exciting new pizza idea into a culinary pit stop rather than a highway to menu stability.
One surefire way of pushing a trend off the cliff is to miss the mark on its execution. All too often, it seems like a pizzeria tried making something after seeing a picture of it on Instagram. There’s always more going on behind the scenes and it’s worth your time to learn everything you can about a trendy new pizza before rolling it out to customers. That pie you think is so amazing because it looks like the picture might not pass the customer test. It’s tempting to jump onto a bandwagon before it gets crowded, but moving too quickly on a new idea without doing your homework could ruin everything.
Sometimes the most exciting element of a symphony is a single melody. Rather than adapting an entire recipe, it might be worth focusing on the single element that drives its popularity. To me, the best part of a Detroit-style pizza is its charred cheese edge. That one element can exist on other pizzas, making the original recipe more of a jumping off point than a destination. The same goes with the light and airy structure of Roman pizza al taglio, which is not a characteristic that belongs solely to that style.
Pizza, as with all food, is a moving target. It thrives because of its ability to adapt. There are so many distractions along the way, but avoiding fads and learning from trends affords pizza the capacity to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.
Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org.