Big flavors, bold delivery

by Susan Malovany
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Chef Wiley Bates III
Chef Wiley Bates III embraces a 'go-for-it" philosophy as Pizza Hut's first-ever global executive chef.

It has been reported that during a visit to Naples in 1889, Queen Margherita of Italy ate a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). While the margherita version remains popular in 2015, today’s pizzas boast a massive billing of specialty toppings and combinations, one more delightful than the next.

For Plano,Texas-based Pizza Hut Inc., a business unit of Yum! Brands, one of the largest pizza chains and possibly the most famous pizza brand in the world, the top seller, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the classic cheese pizza. Pepperoni ranks neck-and-neck with the big cheese.

Cheese is such a basic building-block ingredient at Pizza Hut that the company’s global executive chef, Wiley E. Bates III, doesn’t even acknowledge that it’s his favorite ingredient to work with, because it’s such a given. It’s one of many indications that Bates has his eye on a different pizza prize all together: charging ahead with flavor innovation as the lead on Pizza Hut’s roll-out of recent new pie options, from a salted pretzel crust, to a Buffalo sauce, to a balsamic drizzle.

Knowing your customers

Does cheese’s No. 1 ranking surprise Bates, who helped to create the chain’s “Flavor of now” menu, which includes several new, premium options and specialty pies, such as the Sweet Sriracha Dynamite pizza?

“Not at all,” he said, “because of the simplicity of cheese. I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I hate cheese.’ The addition of cheese always makes everything better. Our new Pretzel Piggy pizza [with hardwood smoked bacon, mushrooms and spinach with a salted pretzel crust, garlic Parmesan sauce and balsamic sauce drizzle], however, is also one of our most popular, as is our meatball pizza.”

“I especially also like using Peruvian cherry peppers, banana peppers, meatballs and plenty more at Pizza Hut,” he noted. “I like to always balance an acid with a base (umami) flavor. It makes everything taste better.”

Making things taste better for consumers is the fundamental philosophy at Pizza Hut, according to Bates. “We continue to develop flavors until we understand exactly what our customers want,” he said. With nearly $6 billion in annual sales and about 7,500 US locations and roughly another 7,500 in 90 countries around the world, Pizza Hut has a mix of dine-in, delivery and carryout locations spread across the United States in everywhere from small to mid-size and major cities. It is also in Target stores, schools, military bases, commissaries and even in the new, on-trend “Slice Bar” locations which sell individual pizza slices. This past fall, the company introduced one of the biggest menu launches of the year, repositioning its brand with 11 new signature pizzas and a build-your-own concept that features six new sauces, ten crust flavors, and four “drizzles,” which are offered alongside old favorites like the Meat Lover’s and Supreme pizzas.

Bates began working for the Yum!/Pizza Hut corporate office in 2012 at its Center for Restaurant Excellence in Plano, which houses the R&D Center, and he continues to work at the location today, with a focus on expanding the company’s “wow!” factor for customers who look to the culinary mainstay as both comfort food and an opportunity for fun flavor exploration.

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