Fascinating to read about super successful restauranteur Peter Boizot, founder of PizzaExpress…. and that fact that he stopped eating meat aged 6 in 1934. PizzaExpress is firm favourite with vegans and they sell great drinks too rather than cheap chemical filled fizzy pop.
Peter has just released the second edition of his autobiography, ‘Mr Pizza And All That Jazz’. The book describes his journey from his first pizza to the owner of an international restaurant chain, meanwhile standing for parliament, owning Jazz clubs, saving Venice and chairing his favourite football club.
Launched in Soho, London, in 1965, PizzaExpress is now one of the largest Italian restaurant chains in the UK, with more than 450 locations internationally. In the biography, Peter describes how he originally brought pizza to Britain after being inspired by his time working as an au pair for a well-to-do family in Florence, Italy. He also explains what turned him off meat for life aged 6, why he has never looked back and how he struggled with the decision to serve meat pizza in his restaurants.
Peter tells us more and we are delighted to share some excerpts from this fascinating book with you too….
“I’m delighted to launch this second edition of my autobiography. Many have said that my love for pizza is infectious – perhaps that is the secret to my success. My family and friends rightly note that I can barely find my way around a kitchen, so I’m no culinary expert. But I know what I like, and I have ample bravado to think others will like it as well.”
Excerpt from Mr Pizza And All That Jazz by Peter Boizot:
My earliest memories come from when I was five years old, and embarked upon a family holiday that gave birth to my lifelong vegetarianism.
With the plethora of meat dishes now on sale in the restaurant, it may surprise some meat eaters that the founder of PizzaExpress turned to a life of fruit and veg as a child. But it wouldn’t surprise a vegetarian.
“Pizzas are the most delectable food for a vegetarian: that combination of dough, tomatoes, cheese and herbs ingredients turned into a zesty mix of flavour often denied to the diner who objects to eating meat. It was certainly denied to me during my self-imposed vegetarian childhood.
“I gave up eating meat during a family holiday up to Scotland in 1934. The trip was organised just as I had become overwhelmed with terror about a giant I had read about in some piece of fantasy fiction. My mother was worried that holiday could be ruined by my all encompassing fear that we might run into some fearsome giant. Ever the pragmatist, she alleviated my panic by telling me that not only had the giant died, but we would be able to see his grave while up in the Highlands.
“During the long drive up to Scotland in my parents’ little Austin 7, my fathers wonderful storytelling abilities again came to the fore. He told me that not only would we see the giant’s burial place, but we would also see the beasts that he kept as pets. He described them as gargantuan, cloven-hooved creatures that weighted over 80 stone (or about the same as 25 boys my age).
“My father said they had white skin with large black blotches, and two huge ears that poked out of their skulls and helped them hear when a predator was approaching. He said they communicated with each other with deep, guttering roars, which I would be able to hear when we approached them from the safety of our car.
Then my mother told me that the locals had found ingenious ways to snare the beasts into traps, and then after slaying them the animal would be cut up and fed to Scottish villagers. She said I would be able to sample some of it, and that it made me so strong no giant would ever want to come after me. Between them, they certainly painted a scary, if exciting, prospect.
As we trudged up closed to Scotland my father suddenly announced he could see the beasts in the field to our side.
I quickly turned to take a look at what it was that they had been talking so fearsomely about…
It was a field full of cows nonchalantly grazing.
Compared to the monstrous ogres I had imagined, these creatures looked like happy, foolish, friendly being who were content to sit in the grass. They were totally innocent of anything that would make them be referred to as monstrous.
I immediately thought back to my mother’s promise of eating the beasts and was repulsed at the idea. Why should this docile animal die just so I could fill my belly?
My mother had been feeding me raw liver as a child, and I thought nothing of it. Food was just something that came out of a can. However I was converted to vegetarianism that moment I realised the food came from inside those cows..
My abstinence from meat of course affected menu choices, and I also hoped that a vegetarian range of dishes may have been what set us apart from our competitors at the beginning. I did reluctantly decide to sell one meat dish, because I appreciated that the vast majority of our potential customers would be carnivores.
It is a strange moral quandary for a vegetarian restaurant proprietor, do you go against your personal instinct and serve meat, or go against your professional instinct and refuse it? Ultimately, I decided it would be foolish on both a personal and professional basis to absolutely deny customers what they want. Professionally, I realised it could lose PizzaExpress a lot of custom so I reluctantly put one meat dish on the menu.
Peter Boizot – Mr Pizza And All That Jazz.