Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Good things come in three... toppings.

Pictured: Gabriele Bonci, owner of Pizzarium in Rome Italy, demonstrating the Three Topping Theory.
Bonci, described as the Michelangelo of pizza uses no more than three toppings on his pizzas.

Let me explain two thought processes of food that you may not be aware you're (or not) engaging in. The first scenario is a typical American ideology that bigger is better, and the more toppings we can put on our pizza, burgers, and food, means that the food is better. Extra cheese, Biggie-Size, X-large, etc., all excite us when we go out to eat. Now consider this alternative view that I learned while living in Europe, that you should only add something to recipe (or a topping) if the ingredient improves the taste of the dish.

I've called this the Three-Topping Theory here at the food lab, based on the Italian way of making pizza. The idea is that pizza should have no more than three toppings (or garnishes). It's very effective in my experience, and honestly, I've realized I love pepperoni, mushroom, and black olives a lot more than any other combination of pizza. There's a balance when you cook with the TT Theory, and I began seeing it in a lot of my other favorite foods. I started to wonder if this is the mathematical basis for irresistible food.

For instance, I've discovered my favorite chili-cheeseburger on the West Coast (Tommy's) is composed of pickles, onions, and tomatoes. It suddenly hit me, there was no lettuce on this combination of flavors. Yet my second favorite West Coast sandwich included onion rings, lettuce, and tomato. Of course I'm not counting condiments (sauce) here, but you get the idea. There's some science to all this madness, or maybe it's just the magic of the power of three?

What does all this mean? It means, generally speaking, there is an ideal ratio for really good recipes. Not only recipes, but cooking in general. Why do we have 3-cheese lasagna, three bean chili, Cajun Trinity Spices, or three layer cakes? Perhaps good things do come in three?

Before you think I'm completely nuts, consider the Latin phrase omne trium perfectum, which means everything in three is perfect. The Rule of Three is used in everything from literature to geometry, and is the difference between a painter mixing three colors to paint with, or in the American perspective, painting with all the colors at once, resulting in a single black un-edible"painting". Pizza, burgers (or other foods) are a canvas, and there is a discipline to it, discipline to the art of cooking. Let the flavors of your toppings speak to your palette and the color choice of the toppings hunger your eyes. Make art with your food, and you'll find it much more satisfying.