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Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Groupon U.S. Pizza Team cleans up at Shanghai pizza championship

All U.S. Pizza Team members placed winning honor AND cash prizes
Last week 4 members of the U.S. Pizza Team traveled clear across the globe to Shanghai to compete in the 10th annual Chinese Pizza Championship which took place at the FHC food show.  The flight was grueling, the food, hardly recognizable, and yet the competition turned out to be a huge victory for the Pizza Team.  All 4 traveling team members placed as well as our tag along Russian competitor representing Dodo’s pizza. 

The Groupon U.S. Pizza Team members competing this year were Rick and Jane Mines, Dave Sommers and Mike LaMarca (pictured above).  LaMarca received an honorable mention, Rick Mines and Sommers tied for 3rd place and Jane Mines came in 2nd.  Anatolii Surkov of Dodo’s pizza in Russia came in 1st, tied with two other Chinese competitors Zhang Xu and Cai Zhichao. 

But winning wasn't easy.  There were over 40 competitors and challenges along the way.  The team's first challenge came immediately after touching down on Chinese soil.  Customs confiscated all the team’s meats, cheeses and vegetables for their competition pizzas.  Some ingredients would be particularly difficult to find, such as the gorgonzola needed for Dave Sommers pie.  But with help from a vendor at the FHC food show, Sommers was able to recreate his pizza. 

Left to right: Dave Sommers with wife Karil and son Chris
The competition was different from the international pizza competition the Groupon U.S. Pizza Team has seen in Italy.  For one thing, LaMarca notes that “in Italy, the Italians are considered the experts whereas in China, the Americans are considered the experts” when it comes to pizza making.  Sommers was glad to see more options in terms of ovens.  “In Italy they don’t have a conveyor option, China had a flat deck or conveyor.  Italy only has a domed deck oven,” says Sommers.
Apart from the pizza competition and trade show, PMQ ventured out into Shanghai.  Dinner was always an adventure, and not always a pleasant one.  The Chinese way of having a communal dinner is traditionally at a large round table with a large lazy Susan in the middle.  A wide variety of dishes are brought out and everyone helps themselves, turning the lazy Susan to pass along the dishes.  Each meal was a new surprise adventure with food quite different from what you'd expect at a Chinese restaurant in the U.S.  In fact, the food we call Chinese food is what the Chinese call Chinese American food. You can find your General Tsao's chicken and chop suey only at Chinese American restaurants like Fortune Cookie. No, the real China eats such delicacies as frogs, duck skin, cow stomach, chicken feet and cold goose.  Fortunately, we all survived the meals in China, even the street food was inexplicable but delicious.  

Some of the other excursions included a river boat dinner cruise on the Pearl River which passes along the skyline of Shanghai.  The economic boom in China is evident in the colorfully displayed flashing lights reminiscent of Times Square.  Check out the following pictures along with some beautiful scenes in the quiet water town of Zhujiajiao. 

Buddhist temple

This Chinese dog looks suspiciously French
Street vendors have the best food

It's crowded in China

The Green family, PMQ publishers Steve and Linda with children Chris, Caroline and (me!) Missy.

For bonus excitement, check out Chris Green's viral video on venturing to China

Chris in China
Posted by Chris Green on Monday, November 16, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sausage paste and beetroot essence pizza wins at the European Pizza Championships

Well it's no surprise that the Italians claimed first (and second and third) prize at the European championships in Milan last month.  What you might not expect though is the atypical toppings on  the winning pizza.

While Italy is still known to be the most "orthodox" when it comes to classic pizza toppings, the high volume of pizza competitions in the past decade has likely contributed to the variety now coming from Italian chefs.

The winning pizza paid tribute to the Halloween season with it's wicked named, the "witch" pizza.  First place winner Salvatore La Porta topped the pizza with pumpkin cream, mozzarella, sautéed sausage paste, strips of zucchini, tomatoes, essence of beetroot, mushrooms, and parmesan cheese.

When not winning European championships, you can find Salvatore at his pizzeria Al Posto Giusto in Calepio, Italy.

The European pizza championships was held at the HOST trade show in Milan, organized by Pizza e Pizza Italiana magazine and had 62 competitors participate in the competition.  Pizza e Pasta Italiana's next competition will be a round of Giropizza taking place in Rimini January 25, 2016.  Giropizza is a series of pizza competitions leading up the World Pizza Championships in Parma, Italy.

Also, be on the lookout for the Chinese National Pizza Championship and the Triple Panel Pizza Challenge organized by PMQ China.  Many of the U.S. Pizza Team members will be competing in it.  It all happens at the FHC food show in Shanghai November 11-13, 2015.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Domino's shamelessly opens first store in Italy

Domino's has boldly gone where no American pizza chain has gone before - Italy.  Early this October Domino's Italia opened its first pizza store in Milan with the promise of opening two more by the end of the year.  Sounds crazy, right?

The Italian Domino's franchisee and seasoned restaurant entrepreneur Alessandro Lazzaroni doesn't seem to think so. "We will be using a recipe created by us, using locally-sourced wheat. Everything else is purely Italian. We are purchasing all of our products from Italian producers. We've created our own recipe, starting for the original pizza recipe, with Italian products, like 100 percent tomato sauce and mozzarella, and products like Prosciutto di Parma, Gorgonzola, Grana Padano and Mozzarella di bufala Campana."  That's right, 100% tomato sauce and mozzarella.
Lazzaroni goes on to say, "we will also leverage Domino's excellence in technology, being able to operate online delivery as nobody else, to bring to Italian people what is fully missing today: a very good local pizza served at home quickly and hot, which can be ordered online with few clicks and at a very competitive price."  To push online sales, the Domino's in Milan is offering a 25% discount for online orders, not a bad idea since online ordering is known to increase ticket sales 15-20%.   

The biggest challenge will probably be getting over the stigma of being an American capitalist giant.  Italy has proudly proclaimed for years that not a single Starbucks could make it in their rich coffee culture.  On the surface, resistance to American chains looks Anti-American, but don't let it fool you.  Italians have a deep appreciation for American culture (and an infinitely deeper one for their own cuisine).  Take a look at the Italian brand Arnold Coffee with the tagline "The American Coffee Experience."  The store is very much like a Starbucks with free wifi, a display case with muffins and cookies, and of course, coffee served in paper cups.  

I admit American pizza would be a harder sell than American coffee, but that's why Domino's is completely changing their product to adapt to the Italian market.  They are even serving tiramisu!  Along with a business model for pizza that is currently lacking in Italy (quick, efficient, easy ordering and delivery), perhaps it's not so crazy after all.  

The Italian tweetosphere is largely in an outrage over the nerve that Domino's has opening an "American" pizzeria on Italian.  In fact, the Domino's Italia twitter page doesn't even display their tweets.  They are locked until you follow them, pending approval.  I've never seen a business' social media page on lock down, it makes you wonder what kind of response they're getting.

The ONE tweet I found in Italian that was positive, came from someone who actually tried the pizza!  It says, "Domino's pizza in Italy in Milan, I'll tell you, I thought it would be worse." 

Only time will tell if an Italian franchisee can sway the public with a 100% Italian pizza and an American brand logo.  One thing is for certain, it's not gonna be easy.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Check out pictures of Italy's Pizza Oscar winners

The winners from Italy's second annual Pizza Oscars are in.  The competition was hosted by Angelo Petrone a professor at, the Italy-based pizza school headquartered in Pisa.  In previous years the competition was based solely on how photogenic a pizza was.  But with a new competition format that also judges pizza on taste, pizzas can't win on looks alone.  Like the real Oscars, they must also make a stunning performance.

The competition runs in two stages.  The first part, taking place in August was called the Great Beauty (in reference to the 2013 Italian Film.)  Over 100 contestants entered in either the Classic or Gourmet categories.  From this pool of contestants, 24 were selected to recreate the pizzas in their photos and present them before a panel of judges at the Eataly location in Florence.

Without further ado, here are the first place winners.
Created by Giuseppe Frau in the Classic division. 

This "great beauty" consists of mozzarella, prosciutto crudo, cherry tomatoes and Parmesan cheese flakes topped with a ball of buffalo mozzarella which been wrapped in raw prosciutto.

Domenico Felice from Florence took first in the Gourmet division 

Both categories had ties for 2nd place.  What follows are both second places and the 3 place pizzas for the Classic and Gourmet categories.

2nd place Classic: Marco Fuso from London 
Also 2nd place Classic: Mattia di Giovannantonio from Giulianova 
3rd place Classic: Marcello Fotia from Anzio

2nd place Gourmet: Paolo Albante from Austria  
2nd in Gourmet also: Rocco Meninno from Grottaminarda 
3rd place in Gourmet: Marcello Fotia from Anzio

If you want to see more from visit them at their website.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

GI Metal just got even more spectacular

Here I am with GI Metal's President Marco D'Annibale
You've seen them in PMQ magazine, at trade shows far and wide and sponsoring a variety of pizza events and competitions.  GI Metal is perhaps the most important luxury pizza tool company with designer products engineered and manufactured in Italy.  Now GI Metal, the company that began as a humble family enterprise, has opened their doors to a remarkable new facility.  "The new office gives breath to our thirty-year project that already sees us present on the main world markets," says Marco D'Annibale, GI Metal's founder and CEO.

This new high tech laser cuts with precision and speed
The grand opening was this past September 12th but I had the honor of visiting the plant in in May when the final pieces were coming into place.  GI Metal's new headquarters remains in Italy's Tuscany region going from their old location in Prato to the nextdoor area of Pistoia, not far from Florence.  Indeed the demand for high quality pizza tools had outgrown GI Metal's capacity and now with the new facility, the company looks forward to meeting international demands efficiently and on time.  During my visit I noticed boxes labeled for shipment to places as far away as Kenya.

Among the new additions to their technology such as a state-of-the-art laser to pierce GI Metal's signature metal peels, the company has made some enormous strides in contributing to the education of pizza makers.  GI Metal's new test kitchen called the PalaPizza is set to become a cultural pizza center for training courses and product testing.  The new test kitchen is outfitted with GI Metal tools and a Swedish PizzaMaster oven.

Equally impressive is the new show room which displays the entire range of GI Metal products in beautifully lit displays that could only rival James Bond, Maserati or perhaps the Bat Cave.  The long vertical panels displaying the peels below rotate to be completely hidden.  When they are rotated out to be displayed a spotlight shines on the individual panel, illuminating the piece in all its glory.

The grand opening began with a ribbon cutting by Ferdinando Betti, the Mayor of Montale, in the province of Pistoia.  Afterwards guests were welcomed into the PalaPizza room for a pizza tasting and dough spinning entertainment.  PMQ wasn't able to make it to the grand opening this time, but we are looking forward to attending future events in the PalaPizza.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Neapolitan pizzaiola becomes first female pizza champion in international competition

Photo Credit: Scatti di Gusto
September 2nd Teresa Iorio made Neapolitan pizza history becoming the first woman pizza maker to win the STG pizza category at the Trofeo Caputo competition in Naples.  STG is the abbreviation used to describe a United Nations-approved set of standards and procedures which separates an authentic Neapolitan pizza from the imitations.  STG stands for Specialità Traditionale Garantita (guaranteed traditional speciality) and after 14 years of competition, the first female champion in this highly-prestigious category has emerged.

A native to Naples, Iorio erupted with joyous tears upon receiving her 1st place trophy.  "I never imagined I could win - I'm sharing my victory with all the women who dedicate themselves to this line of work" (  Iorio also dedicates her victory to her father Ernesto who taught her the art of pizza making.  "When I stretch out a pizza dough I always think about him," says Iorio.

The Trofeo Caputo continues to bring more and more international pizza makers each year.  This year there were 50 wood burning ovens dotted along the coast at the Lungomare coast feeding the crowds as the competition trailed into the early morning hours.  The championship was well attended by an international crowd, particularly from Asia.  This year a pizza maker from Korea, Lee Yoong Woo took home first place in the pizza classica division, to the dismay of many Italians.

If you're in Naples, be sure to stop by Teresa's family-owned pizzeria, le Figlie di Iorio (the daughters of Iorio) and taste for yourself.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

We triple dog dare you to compete in Shanghai's Triple Panel Pizza Challenge

PMQ and the U.S. Pizza Team are gearing up for a far out adventure in the far east.  Celebrating its 10th year, the Chinese Pizza Championship and PMQ China are adding a thrice enticing pizza competition into the Pizza Pavilion at the FHC food show in Shanghai.

For the first time in pizza history, pizzaiolos will present their pies to a judging trifecta.  Three separate panels composed of judges from different countries (USA, Italy and China) will judge each competition pizza according to their own native tastes.  Awards will be given for the highest ranking pizza for each national panel as well as a highest score overall.  The competition is open to any pizza maker with the gumption to take on the challenge, and especially those interested in knowing how their pizza may be received in different markets.

For example, a strong flavored cheese may be praised by the American judges but displeasing to the Chinese and possibly to the Italians.  Whereas a strong fish taste would likely be voted down by Americans, yet celebrated by Italians and admired by the Chinese.  Submitting your pizza to all three panels will give invaluable feedback on foreign preferences for crust consistency, texture and taste.

The Triple Panel Pizza Challenge will take place inside the FHC (Food Hospitality China) show, the largest domestic show in China, this November 11-13 in Shanghai.  The Pizza Pavilion, put together by PMQ China will consist of a huge competition area set off in the red box on the map. There will be pizza tossing demos, a rest area for the competitors, a large space for judging and the audience. See photos and info from last year's competition where Steve Green was a judge in a Pizza Without Borders post here.

The map here displays only one hall of the seven which specializes in imported foods, bakery and ice-cream, beer, wine, meat, coffee & tea and the culinary arts.  

But it's not all business.  Join us for several excursions along the way to help you get the most out of your Chinese adventure.  Shanghai is rich with an eclectic mix of ancient brick and wildly modern colored lights.  Team members who come along will enjoy a relaxing cruise down the Huangpu River and a peaceful visit to a picturesque water town called Wuzhen.  You can shop for ingredients at local markets, visit old temples or try some adventurous foods!

The official PMQ Chinese pizza tour happens November 9-15th and includes hotel, tour bus transportation and most meals for the low price of $1215 per person.  This does not include the competition registration fee of $250 nor airfare.

Space is limited to 25 seats and a Chinese visa from the consulate is required, so book soon!  You may contact Caroline Felker to reserve your seat at 662-801-0878 or email her at Caroline (at) pmq (dot) com.