Double gold, hold the anchovies
For the social set who can't afford the soaring price of bullion, there's gold-topped pizza
ANNE KINGSTON | March 19, 2008 |
Amid the tremors of the volatile gold market — the price jumped to a new high of $1,000 an ounce last week — one oasis of calm remains. The price of the country's only 24k gold-topped pizza stayed steady — $108 for a large "Ã¼ber Sustenance" at Toronto's Magic Oven, purveyor of "organic," "vegan" and "dairy-free" pizzas. The molten substance (purchased at an art supply store) glistens atop organic chicken, salami, grilled vegetables, cheeses and herbs, a cornucopia of ingredients that compensates for the fact that the metal itself is both odourless and tasteless.
Man has been gilding food with gold ever since figuring out the metal is harmless in its pure state. A recipe for Gilded Fish in Jelly can be found in Elizabeth Raffald's 1769 domestic primer The Experienced English Housekeeper. Gold flakes have been suspended in liquor for centuries, precursors of that table-dance-enabler GoldschlÃ¤ger. In the late 1980s, renowned Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi astounded the culinary world with his Riso oro e zafferano — classic risotto alla Milanese adorned with a gold leaf square. He was alternatively hailed the new Leonardo and vilified a master of high tack.
Now, with the gold price in orbit, a new gastro gold rush is upon us. Possessing the whiff of Versailles and the subtlety of Paris Hilton, gold is the new go-to ingredient for publicity seekers. When F. Duerr & Sons, the U.K.'s oldest family-owned preserves manufacturer, wanted to create buzz around its 125th anniversary in 2006, it produced the "world's most expensive marmalade" made from aged whisky, high-end champagne and gold flake bottled in a fancy crystal jar for more than $10,000 — that's $150 per slice of toast. Last month, the Daily Mail reported Australian pop princess Kylie Minogue celebrated her victory at the Brit Awards at London's posh Movida bar with a Â£35,000 cocktail — Louis XII cognac, half a bottle of Cristal Rose champagne, bitters, brown sugar and chips of 24k gold leaf, complete with an 11k diamond ring in the bottom of the glass. If the price doesn't sufficiently convey its luxury, two security guards accompany the drink from mixing to delivery.
The audience being targeted by the hype, of course, can't afford to hoard the actual bullion, like hapless Dwight on The Office who requests "extra flakes" in his GoldschlÃ¤ger. But they might be willing to invest in a $25 bottle of Hundred Acres winery's "Gold," a white wine blend finished with a sprinkling of 24k gold flakes (a house wine at Hefner's Playboy Mansion). Small surprise wines aglow with swirling gold were the talk of the 2007 International, Food, Drink and Hospitality Exhibition held in New Delhi last December. It's a brilliant bid to cultivate a wine market in India, where consumers are familiar with decorative gold leaf.
It was his childhood in India, he says, that inspired Magic Oven founder Tony Sabherwal to garnish pizza with gold leaf. The 46-year-old grew up amid stories of 15th-century nabobs throwing a gold coin in the cooking pot, then later rewarding the chef with it. As a boy he suffered from severe bronchitis treated by an Ayurvedic practitioner with an expensive medicine containing gold flakes.
After immigrating to Canada in 1986, he worked at a cousin's restaurant, then for a major pizza chain where he heard customers griping about grease and limited toppings. In 1997, with his wife, Abby, he opened Magic Oven as a pizza alternative. Crusts are made with organic spelt. A line of "Pizzaceuticals" boasts antioxidant benefits. Virtue prevails. (The anti-fast-food credo extends even to the delivery schedule; wait times of over an hour are common.) Catering to the food-sensitive, food-allergic and nutritionally obsessed has proven lucrative. Now with five outlets, the Sabherwals plan to franchise 30 more in the next five years.
Gold leaf was added to the menu four years ago, more as a conversation starter than for the putative health benefits, says Sabherwal, though both gold and silver are vaunted by Ayurvedic medicine for their aphrodisiac value. Then gold's doubling in price forced it off the menu as a standard ingredient. Each large $108 "Ã¼ber Sustenance" pizza requires five $7 gold-leaf sheets placed gingerly on the pizza when it comes out of the oven.
Fifteen or so gold-topped pizzas are sold each week. Most are delivered to corporations and lawyers celebrating major deals, perfect proof of the Midas touch. Which means the gold pizza market is also booming, for now.