The Sweet Science of Making A Better Pizza
Anthony Bourdain Leaves Me Hungry For ‘Sm’ores
Where The Rubber Hits The Road At Mystic Pizza
The View From The U.S. Virgin Islands
By JOHN McCARTHY
I am probably not the first American to eat at a red, white and blue fast food joint when traveling in a foreign country.
I may be, however, the first to admit it.
Anthony Bourdain has made a career out of eating exotic, enviable foods in locales from Leonia, New Jersey to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. But I do recall even the crown prince of foodies talking about relishing some Popeyes fried chicken before jetting off on one of those magical mystery television trips.
On the way to becoming the Mick Jagger of all chefs, Bourdain has arguably become the most noteworthy of all the journalists at CNN – interviewing Boris Nemtsov before Putin’s KGB killers had the chance to black hand him – and Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez before El Chapo’s anti-Trump death squads have the chance to kill her.
When I visited Sint Maarten (before the advent of foodies in the United States), I ate at a Wendy’s and a Pizza Hut with my girlfriend Arianna. (I also patronized a more proper Dutch restaurant near Great Bay.)
But at Dave Thomas’ place for lunch, I heaped a plateful of “crab” salad on a plastic plate, before quickly exiting out the door with my future dinner swag, disregarding the explicit warnings that the unlimited salad bar could NOT be taken “to go” – all sneeze-guard protected food must be eaten on the premises. When that Wendy’s closed (the only one on the 13-square-mile island – it was near the airport at Simpson Bay) – I always wondered if other plate pirates like myself had significantly contributed to that franchisee’s demise.
The year was 1991 and it was the first time I had seen fellow human beings put mayonnaise on French fries – a full three years before Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” made Europe’s condiment of choice for papas fritas common knowledge. I found it more curious than disgusting in person. And when I had heard that the Wendy’s closed, I thought to myself: “Of course, what do you expect when the people didn’t even know what to put on French fries!”
When traveling to Darwin, Australia in 2006, I went to a McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin on the waterfront there. Before finalizing my order with the cashier, I asked her if they used Canadian bacon in their version of the popular breakfast sandwich. The cashier’s reply: “No, we use proper bacon.” True enough, when I opened the familiar white bag and removed the yellow paper that sticks to the homogenized plastic cheese, I found out that “proper bacon” was what we would call “bacon strips” in the U.S. The Aussie cashier seemed miffed by the impertinence of my question. But if I hadn’t asked the question then, I wouldn’t have had this funny story to tell today.
I was lucky enough to be dragged on to a private plane for a tennis trip to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic about a year later thanks to a wealthy attorney who would one day be linked by the National Enquirer to trying to hide John Edwards’ baby mama drama in St. Croix. I was perplexed when she and her entourage religiously sought out native music and native cuisine (to include river fish at dinner) on a splendiferous most-expenses-paid vacation. A one hundred percent surprise – when it comes to eating – was not an option for me then. Now, of course, I realize she was right.
Which brings us to the ad I saw last night for Domino’s pizza. In the ad, Domino’s plunks an office trailer down in a Pizza Hut-signed (digitally-obscured) restaurant parking lot offering the competition’s workers the opportunity to attend “Domino’s Pizza School.” The ad says that Domino’s used to use “gimmicks” to attract customers, but now it goes after customers by appealing to their palates. It ends with a Pizza Hut employee in uniform (digitally-obscured) entering the condominium of higher learning for more training. The tagline is: “Oh Yes We Did.” And it’s funny. Or, it worked for me, at least.
To use a “Pulp Fiction” reference, Domino’s is daring customers to take the “Pepsi challenge” when it comes to eating pizza – in other words: Do hot dogs in the crust really taste good? I may be getting more adventurous in what I eat, but I have no desire to try the Pizza Hut monstrosity – unless I knew it would be the last thing I would eat for weeks before being lost at sea – it may be the most caloric pizza ever created. And doubly ironic that Domino’s is challenging Pizza Hut this way because PepsiCo used to own Pizza Hut.
When I was in La Romana in 2013 I had a pepperoni pizza at the Domino’s on Calle Castillo Marquez and noticed that the sauce was much sweeter than I was used to in the states. Most people would have let it go at that, but due to the wonders of social media, I decided to try to get an answer. I figured, of course, that I would get no response at all.
Was I ever wrong. I got an email from Mr. Luis Francisco Rodriguez, the head of all sales, marketing and operations for Domino’s pizza in the Dominican Republic. In the email, Mr. Rodriguez gave me his personal mobile phone number and invited me to call him with any questions I might have. So I did.
The first question I asked was about the sweetness of the sauce:
“We use sugar to temper the acidity of the tomatoes in the pizza sauce,” Mr. Rodriguez explained. “We always used a better grade of cheese in this region because the people here have an Italian palate: we use more sugar, less black pepper and more salt (than in the mainland United States).”
Apparently I have no shame, because my next question seems now to have been a bit much considering how gracious he was being; still, I somehow also suggested that the pizza there was “too greasy.”
“If the dough is not stretched properly, then the cheese-to-oil and water mixture can be off kilter,” Mr. Rodriguez replied.
So when Domino’s pizza does an advertising campaign about how their pizzas are better because their knowledge of pizzas is better – I am inclined to agree.
John McCarthy is the publisher of the Virgin Islands Free Press at: http://vifreepress.com