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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cooking at the Academia Barilla!

This morning the U.S. Pizza Team was warmly welcomed to the Academia Barilla in Parma. The site was the original location of the first Barilla factory which has since been moved to bigger more industrial places. The Academia has become a center for learning (and tasting) the fine art of Italian cooking. 

We didn't realize what we were getting into when we got on the bus this morning. What seemed to be an unusually long venture for a kitchen demonstration revealed itself to be no small undertaking indeed. 

We were immediately split into groups and put to work at different stations making a smorgasbord of Italian delights. 

We set to work preparing guinea fowl, chicken boiled in DOP balsamic vinegar, fresh egg pasta, real homemade Italian tomato sauce, and much more, all with floral, Sicilian olive oil. 

Stay tuned for photos of the finished dishes!

Monday, May 25, 2015

U.S. Pizza Team stresses togetherness, innovation, in strong day 1 showing in Parma

Guest Post by Andy Knef, PMQ Associate Editor

On the first day of World Pizza Championships competition the 17-person U.S. team experienced some highs and lows. Husband-and-wife team Jane and Rick Mines impressed the judges with their individual pie-making in the Pizza on the Peel event. Jane prepared some rarely seen Chicken Kiev pizza despite suffering from an injury that put her in constant pain. Husband Rick supported his wife through the day and found time to prepare a pepperoni rose patterned entry that appeared to be perfectly cooked.

The U.S. team featured locally purchased Parma ingredients in many of their pizza recipes and seemed to hit it off with the Italian judges (especially the oven-area officials) who could frequently be spotted laughing and even dancing with the American contestants.

It's been a tough week for Will Shaw of pizzaBOGO in Olmstead, Ohio. Shaw was actually robbed at the airport before arriving in Italy, losing both cash and crucial ingredients. In today's competition, Shaw came back strongly in the Pizza in Teglia category after being disqualified in Classica when his dough ripped going onto the peel. But Shaw's "Localle" pie-in-the-pan featuring tomato, basil and garlic sauce, and three types of local salami seemed to please the judges. Despite his hard luck, Shaw said he enjoyed the teamwork among his fellow American pizza chefs. But the persevering Buckeye also said he soaked in learning about pizza at the international level. "I had a great time and I'm looking forward to the next round of competition with a whole new perspective," he said.

John Coletta of Quartino in Chicago got the day started in Heinz Beck, (culinary, non-baking event), wowing the judges with his risotto, asparagus and quail eggs dish.

The Five Points Pizza contingent was notable for preparing great event pizzas with Chris Mallon in Classica and also showing off their team spirit. The Nashville squad helped out with all-day assistance from Stayc Gibhan, Michael Lassiter and Wayne Michel behind-the-scenes.

Heather Zook of Sinfully Gluten Free in Dayton, Ohio, showed she knew what it took to make a delicious gluten-free pizza.

Finally, first-day competitors included Bradley Johnson in Classica and Free-Style Dough Acrobatics. Also up on Day 1 were Peter Anderson of Gelsosomo's Pizzeria in Crown Point, Indiana. Anderson competed in Classica and Pizza in Teglia. Leah Scurto of Pizza My Heart in Los Gatos, California, prepared a delicious Classica entry, but also was visible throughout the day lending her support to teammates.

Mike LaMarca of Master Pizza in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, created impressive pizzas in the Classica and Pizza En Teglia events and Michael Stevens and Dave Sommers of Palo Mesa Pizza and Mad Mushroom-West Lafayette, Indiana, respectively, showed their pie mastery in Classica.  

Lenny Giordano, originally from Sicily himself, was speaking the judges' language all day long.  Giordano from Mona Lisa Pizza in Staten Island, New York created an authentic Italian pizza with basil and anchovies.

The first day ended with a masterful acrobatic dough-spinning display from Jamie Culliton of Grimaldi's Pizzeria in St. Petersburg, Florida, who was driven to new heights by his colleague Bradley Johnson.

What it's like to compete in the classica competition in Italy

This is what it's like presenting your pizza at the world pizza championships à la Dave Sommers.

Your pizza is brought onto a table front and center stage.

Prankster host Johnny Park teases you.

...and asks you questions.  
Then its off to the judges table with a competition worker and the U.S. Pizza Team's
faithful translator Paola. 

At the judge's table you have a chance to speak about your pie. 

Then Paola translates it magically and instantly into words from the Italian language.
Judges poke and prod the pizza, ask questions, stare down the competitor.

The pressure rises as questions become more intense. 

Suddenly, a competition helper points to where Dave needs to go
to slice his pizza.  
He walks over and is handed the slicer.

Slices his pizza under a rain of Italian words 
And takes them over to the judges 

The judges try their pizza and make their analysis

The ballots are collected

and ceremoniously collected 
Then put into heavy boxes where evidently, photos are not allowed. 
 Stay tuned for more foodie feats and the 1st round of free style pizza acrobatics today! 

Go, go, go team!

Coming up we have a whirlwind of competitors taking the stage.  6 competitors in a row,  elbow to elbow, fork to pie.  Catch the snippets here or on our other PMQ social media.  Live videos will be posted to instagram with photos and updates on Twitter and Facebook. 

Brady getting ready to go on to make his Spicy Bacon pizza 
Mike and Leah clowning around in the culinary prep area 

Rick Mines, 2014 winner of the Slice of Americana pizza competition in Oxford Mississippi up on stage
Heather Zook presents her sinfully gluten free pizza to the judges.  Brian cheers her on from a far. 
John Coletta translates sinfully difficult gluten-free words into Italian
We've also got a couple international friends of the team on board including David Smith from Sweden. 

Let the games begin!

John Coletta from Chicago is first up in the Heinz Beck competition making asparagus risotto with quail eggs at amazing speeds! 

Beloved team supporters flank the cooking arena. 

Acrobatics at 2pm Central European, that's 7am CST. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

An American pizza sub in Paris!

When Subway does an ad campaign in Paris, where they do it?  That's right - in the subway. 

The metro has been plastered with these ads for the past couple weeks and finally, when no other Europeans were around to judge me, I visited the American chain to do some further investigation.  

The sub consists primarily of chicken, pepperoni, warm marinara sauce and oregano sprinkles.  I got it on oregano encrusted bread too just to be lavish.  The is cheese optional, yet obviously it's gonna be a "oui, oui!" when they ask.  
The sub is toasted and after that you can pretty much put on any toppings you like!  This is where it becomes even more like a pizza.  I got black olives, green pepper and onions because they were the most pizza like flavors.

It's almost like Subway has become the Chipotle of pizza fast casuals.  Or is it the other way around?  Or did someone at Subway just recognize that pizza ingredients are golden together in any format?  

Now I've heard from more than one Frenchie (albeit they were older) that anything anglophone poses a cultural invasion to the French way of life.  So I was a littler frightened about what the folks at Subway might say about America or such a sub which perhaps doesn't respect the cultural tradition of pizza... or of subs!  But this young French sandwicheteer, Samantha, had no qualms about it.  

Samantha (pictured right) insists that French people find the Pizziola sub super delicious!  Hugo, from Portugal and to the left of the photo was a little more skeptical but he kept quiet when he saw Samantha's fierce loyalty to the sub which she recommended with spicy chipotle sauce and then slathered it on.  

I have admit that this sub didn't really taste like pizza at all.  Could have used more sauce and less chicken.  Then again it was called the pizza woman la Pizziola, so maybe the taste they were going for was human flesh which notoriously tastes like chicken.  Either that or they have been inspired by Domino's France which frequently uses women to sell their pies.

Nice try Subway, you got me in your store so I give you an A for... advertising.  If you're in France and want to check it out yourself, better move your oregano buns before the offer ends on June 6.  In the meantime, keep eating PIZZA!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to Win a European Pizza Competition: Part 2

Welcome to part 2/2 of the series "How to Win a European Pizza Competition."  Last week's post, Pizza is Not Lasagna, dealt with dough, sauce and general tips. This week, we will get some professional European tips on topping selection and presentation at the World Pizza Championships in Parma.

I interviewed 5 world-renouned pizza chefs from 4 different countries collected in 3 languages to bring you a 2 part series on how these chefs "1" world championships and what they look for when judging. Find their bios at the end of this post.


Europeans have markedly different palates than Americans. Food in Europe tends to focus more on the quality of primary ingredients which stand firmly on their own and less on dressings, herbs, spices, heat and taste combinations than the American palate.  

Furthermore, the shopping experience in Italy is plain different.  You'll be hard pressed to find shredded low moisture mozzarella and make sure you handle fruit and vegetables with plastic gloves provided at the store! Your cheese and cured meats will be ordered by the hectogram (100 grams) and food borne illnesses aren't as fiercely avoided as they are in the U.S.  Consuming raw eggs and raw ground beef is a daily affair, especially here in France (how else could they get chocolate mousse so fluffy without raw eggs?) So without further ado, here's what the experts had to say on choosing your toppings.

Massimo Bruni

When you go to a competition, you first have to understand which region you are going to. The reason is simple - you should dedicate at least one ingredient to the city where the competition takes place because the judges mostly come from the surrounding area. For Parma, the local ingredient should be the one you put last on the pizza like fresh cherry tomatoes, slices of Parmesan, vegetables either fresh or cooked, cured meat, salami, mozzarella, etc. The pizza should be planned ahead of time but at the same time simple. Not too much cream on top because refrigeration is unreliable during the competition.
Too many people want to make a big impression with complicated ingredients.  When we say pizza we mean a disc of dough with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Although the margherita is simple, not everyone knows how to bake it properly, myself included, that is the real challenge.

Domenico Crolla

What works [for toppings] in America is ridiculed in Italy. Chicken, sweet corn and stuff like that doesn't work.

Bruno Bertrand

You must make a European pizza and that is a lot of work. You have to understand and respect European products. For example if you use duck it shouldn't be overcooked. (In French terms that means make it bleed, baby!) If you use a speciality cheese, be sure you choose a nice one.

You should never improvise at a championship. You need to be well prepared. In Parma it's easy to find all kinds of good ingredients such as cheese, meats and vegetables. If you are unfamiliar with the local products, it's best to keep the pizza as simple as possible with fresh ingredients such as mozzarella, burrata, ham, etc.

Michel Arvblom

Balance your flavors. If you are using salty ingredients like ham or salami, make sure they balance with the salt content of your tomato sauce and cheese.  To balance it you can even use an ingredient like mushroom to balance a high flavor pizza.  Avoid using ingredients that are too spicy like jalapeños or chili peppers because the judges might burn their tongues and not be able to taste your flavorful sauce. 

Check for your ingredients locally. Test local ingredients from Italy which are comparable with your recipe. Remember some ingredents can not be brought in to the EU and or won't make the long flight from the USA. Check if Italy has any of your products available. 

Keep it simple. Use quality ingredients.  Don't put too many toppings or it will make your pizza droop and your delicious toppings will fall off the slice.  Too many toppings might even make the dough wet or soggy. 

Matteo Ruvolo

There are some meats that you should never cook on top of a pizza because they will easily burn and even become carcinogenic. For example mortadella, bresaola, prosciutto crudo, speck, turkey should all be placed on the pizza after it comes out of the oven. Salami that is too aged tends to burn. 

I recommend making a soffritto with butter and fresh chives then adding cream on low heat and adding pistachio flour until it thickens with some salt and black pepper.  Spread the cream on the dough and then you can add sweet pancetta, smoked provolone or mozzarella, mushrooms, and parmesan flakes. Another good combination is using a pumpkin cream with sausage, mushroom and smoked cheese. Other good ingredients to use are scamorza cheese or piacenza. 

The amount of moisture your cheese has should depend on how dry your crust is. If you've got a high moisture pizza dough then you'll want to use a low moisture cheese and vice versa. The important thing is that you don't let the cheese burn and that it doesn't expel too much milk onto the pizza.  Also avoid making the pizza too spicy!


Rick Mines presents his pizza on a pedestal
You may have seen Italians who create giant intricate statues of molded bread alongside their pizza at competitions.  But no need to fear, you don't have to invest weeks of meticulously shaping bread to win in Italy.

Massimo Bruni 

For me the most important thing is that the final product with toppings is something light that smells and looks good. Our brain takes 30 seconds to make a picture of what see and get an idea of what it is. In the other 60 seconds we rationalize. Not everybody likes crunchy pizza, not everybody likes soft.

Domenico Crolla

The competitor is judged as much as the pizza. Smart uniform and presentation is a must.  American chefs tend to be too casual in appearance. Dress like a chef,  gimmicks reflect badly on the pizza 

Bring a spare apron to wear for presentation. Change after you've made your pizza.
Good knowledge of flours and dough is essential if the judges ask about them.  (Note that the W Index for flour strength is a common way of talking about how strong your flour is in Europe).

Mike Arvblom

When the pizza comes out of the oven, let it rest for a few minutes on a pizza screen to cool off before slicing your winning pizza.  Letting it cool will let the hot liquids set so it won't run under your pizza crust making it soggy.  Carefully plan letting your sexy pizza cool down so the judges won't burn their tongue on the hot pizza, leaving them unable to taste your delicious pizza.

Use local products (at least one if you can).  But if you don't understand them, keep things simple.  It's easy to get lost in the vast assortment of cured meats and cheeses. Also, make sure you keep yourself tidy for the presentation and know everything there is to know about your ingredients and the process being making your dough.  If you decide to impress the judges and speak some words in Italian, make sure you got your translation straight.   Gino Rago can attest to the embarrassment of being just one letter off and saying something utterly inappropriate. 

Massimo Bruni

Italian chef from Southern Italy, multi-time world pizza champion in both the Parma competition and at the Absolute Pizza Competition in Rome.  Bruni represents the Italian chapter of the U.S. Pizza Team International and has won on their behalf in 2011 in Rome. 

Domenico Crolla

Scottish-Italian. Father of pizza art, owner of Bella Napoli in Glasgow, has judged several national and international pizza competitions including the World Pizza Championships many times over.

Bruno Bertrand

Corporate chef at Galbani cheese, owner of Esprit Pizza and multi-time judge at the World Pizza Championships and other French and world pizza competitions. 

Matteo Ruvolo

President of the European Pizzaioli School and head of Hospitality at Catania University in Siciliy.   Ruvolo has won a room full of trophies including the Medetteranian cup and the European cup.  He is also the proud father of a squad of pizza spinning, uniforming wearing kids.

Mike Arvblom

Swedish-American, winner of the World Pizza Championship at Pizza Expo, 2015 judge at the World Pizza Championship, has judged various Swedish and European competitions.  Founder of the Swedish Pizza Association and International Council for pizza.