I had an Italian girlfriend back in my college days who was a wonderful cook. This was important to our relationship because my life back then was often characterized by (1) hunger and (2) poverty.
There was just one flaw. She wouldn’t eat pizza. She insisted that pizza was merely leftovers tossed on some bread and covered with cheese and tomato sauce and swore that no self-respecting Italian would ever serve it to guests or eat it at a restaurant.
While I admired her ethnic sensibilities, turning up her nose on my favorite food was troubling. I worried she probably didn’t like rock ‘n’ roll, football and cigars either. Alas, we drifted apart. I wonder if she ever changed her mind and learned to love an extra large with sausage and pepperoni.
I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of what Bon Appetite magazine once called the “most perfect food.” Indeed, there are few places on Earth where pizza isn’t enjoyed in one form or another.
Pizza in Tibet? Sure thing. Iran? Yup. North Pole, Alaska? You bet.
Just how popular is it? After spending two years in a North Korean jail, the first thing freed American Kenneth Bae wanted was pizza. Ditto Yale student Parker Liautaud who last year set a world record for the fastest unsupported walk from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole. After completing the grueling trek, he said the first thing he wanted to do when he returned from the South Pole was eat New Haven pizza.
A 2012 report from the food and beverage research firm Technomic reported that 40% of Americans ate pizza at least once a week, up from a 26% weekly pizza habit two years prior.
Yet there is trouble on Planet Pizza. The world’s largest purveyor, after several years of sales declines, is reinventing the pie.
Pizza Hut will focus on dozens of new flavor options as it mounts the 56-year-old brand's biggest-ever redo, according to USA Today. It will add 11 new pizza recipes, 10 new crust flavors, six new sauces, five new toppings, four new flavor-pack drizzles, a new logo, new uniforms and, yes, even a new pizza box.
That means the chain is more than doubling its available ingredients at all 6,300 U.S. locations beginning Nov. 19. Just in time for Thanksgiving.
This is troubling news for a guy who thinks putting ham and pineapple on a pizza is an abomination.
According to a press release, the choices are nearly limitless, with "more than two billion" ways to customize a pizza. Customers can choose from new toppings like Peruvian cherry peppers, crust flavors like Salted Pretzel and sauces like Honey Sriracha.
Even worse, they’ve attached silly names to their product. There’s Cock-a-Doodle Bacon (chicken and bacon with a creamy Parmesan sauce); Giddy Up BBQ Chicken (another chicken and bacon combo); Buffalo State of Mind (Buffalo sauce topped with grilled chicken, sliced banana peppers and fresh red onions); Pretzel Piggy (creamy garlic Parmesan sauce topped with hardwood smoked bacon, fresh mushrooms and fresh spinach – flavored up with a salted pretzel crust edge and balsamic sauce drizzle).
Could I really order out loud “an extra large Pretzel Piggy”? I think not.
Then there’s Sweet Sriracha Dynamite, with a honey Sriracha sauce, grilled chicken, sliced jalapeno, pineapple and cherry peppers, with a Sriracha-flavored crust edge and drizzle.
With that much Sriracha, it will probably be banned in Irwindale.
There is a positive here. The menu is also getting a line of “Skinny Slice” pizzas with about 250 calories a slice. Not exactly diet food but it’s the thought that counts.
This from a chain that once offered a Cheeseburger Crust Pizza that tipped the scales at 2,880 calories, somewhat north of an adult male's recommended daily calorie intake. It was only available in Great Britain, another blow to American prestige abroad.
Pizza Hut executives claim they are “redefining the category” and that they researched "hundreds" of ingredients. These are the ones customers told us they want.”
Not everyone is buying this spin.
“Pizza Hut may be doing too much too quickly," says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic told USA Today. “It would appear that the brand that has lost touch with the consumer is trying to change too much overnight."
“It’s a fear of irrelevance,” he said. “But the potential to negatively influence their current customer base is certainly there.”
In a related development, Australian chef Johnny Di Francesco took the top prize at the Pizza World Championship in Parma, Italy.
And was his creation topped with foi gras, caviar and lobster soaked in Napoleon brandy?
Nope. Competition rules in this category are very strict, as only peeled tomatoes, certain types of mozzarella, garlic, olive oil, salt and fresh basil leaves can be used to top the pizza.
Give me simple every time.
Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.