Canadian Pizza Magazine

Taking On The World

By Diana Coutu   

Features Profiles

Canadian Pizza Magazine’s Chef of the Year heads to Ital

Wow, what an incredible experience being a World Pizza
Championship Player. I can’t begin to describe what an amazing time I
had in Italy, never mind competing in the games and all.

Canadian Pizza Magazine’s Chef of the Year heads to Italy

Diana Coutu with acrobatic finalist Georgio Giove of the World Pizza Champions

Wow, what an incredible experience being a World Pizza Championship Player. I can’t begin to describe what an amazing time I had in Italy, never mind competing in the games and all.


What a totally different world it is over there. It may have been because we were in a small town, but life in Italy seemed to focus on family, friends, food, fashion and fun. Most businesses shut down between 1-4 p.m. and dinner isn’t served until 8 p.m. Did that ever take some getting used to… restaurants telling us we couldn’t ‘mangia mangia’ because the kitchen was closed. How many of you would turn hungry customers away during those times?

We visited some of the local pizzerias, which was educational, although it left Pierre and I craving our own pies from home. It’s not that they were bad, necessarily, just that they were very different.

You couldn’t create your own and the pizzas were very light on sauce – which I didn’t mind – and only one or two toppings. There was no chance to get a red pepper, tomatoes and spinach pie … only salami, or just tomatoes, or a blend of sharp, pungent cheeses, nothing else.

Let’s just say that I’m sick of salami.   The games were held in a little town called Salsamaggiore. It’s about two hours south of Milan.  Salsamaggiore is known for three things: their salt spring baths and spas; hosting the annual Miss Italy contest; and, of course, hosting the World Pizza Championship games every year.

While I didn’t come back with a first place win, I did do extremely well for a first time competitor.  I was told that my score was extremely strong, and while I don’t know my exact rank, I’m one of the top 50 pizza makers on the planet. Pretty cool, eh?
And now that I know what the competition is looking for, next year I’ll do even better.

All the pizzas made for the competition were very simple, with light sauce and lightly dressed with one to three toppings at the most. They even have a new gluten-free pizza category, which I’ll probably compete in next year as well.

I learned so much from my first time as a World Pizza Championship games competitor. I was scheduled to compete on the first day, which initially is what I wanted.

There were over 400 competitors in my category alone, the Pizza Classica class.

Many seasoned competitors told me I should compete the second day. They suggested that I observe what everyone else makes on the first day, and modify from there – let someone else test the ovens. Besides it always takes a full day for the ovens to get nice and hot, they said; which made enough sense to me.

I tried to have my day changed, but it was not to be. I was number 26 on the roster, and so I was one of the first competitors on the morning of the first day. In hindsight I realized even if I had been able to change my day, I brought what I brought.

If you change your mind about the pie you’ll make it’s not like you can have your new creation of ingredients shipped overnight. In my opinion, you should know exactly what you’re going to make before you leave Canada. Source your fresh ingredients in Italy, but bring your cheeses, meats and sauce. You don’t want to have to incorporate a new taste that late in the game.

I also had a ‘helluva’ time finding arugula, of all things. Italian arugula looks a lot like dandelion leaves, and has a very strong taste compared to the arugula you find in Canada. 

The day before the competition, I was slightly stressed – running around town looking for arugula during the peak time when all the stores were closed. Then I had to go to the sport complex where the games were being held so I could make my dough.

Canadian Pizza Magazine’s Chef of the Year, Diana Coutu, with members of the “Irish Drinking Team with a Gourmet Pizza Making Problem.”

I should tell you about the Japanese Pizza Team, whom I taught to make dough by hand. I only made enough for two patties, so it made more sense to make it by hand. Too bad I needed to know how to speak Italian in order to talk to them. Through our broken speech, they kept trying to get me to use the dough mixer, but it was too big for my small batch of dough.

They were so intrigued by the beer and what I was doing with it that I quickly had an audience. They learned to say ‘Moosehead’ and afterwards whenever they saw me around town they’d say ‘Oh Canada’ – like ‘oh you again, from Canada’ and make gestures with their hands. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that they were inappropriate, sexual gestures, but actually it’s making dough by hand.  Too funny!

If you make the Canadian Pizza Team and go to Italy in 2007, don’t be offended if the Japanese team makes gestures at you.
Another challenge I had was filling out the competition form. I don’t speak Italian and the form was completely in Italian. It was briefly translated for me so I knew what I had to fill out and where to sign, but for all I know I signed away my first born.

Ok, more than likely not, but I did have to fill out a name for my creation and list the toppings that I chose to put on it – in Italian. The pocket Italian/English dictionary was helpful, but not completely. Alas, ‘Big D’s Bodacious BLT on a Honey Wheat Moosehead Beer crust’ did not translate well and was not as cool of a name in Italian.

I highly recommend you have someone translate your pie before you go. 

Luckily we had become acquainted with Joe Carlucci from the World Pizza Champions team in New York; plus fellow Canadian Pizza magazine columnist and Canadian Pizza Team coach Roberto Vergalito is friends with Tony Gemignani and had asked him to look after me in his absence.

Tony and Joe did just that, as well as their World Pizza Champions teammates Ken Bryant and Siler Chapman. If I couldn’t be there with a team of Canucks, this is the group to be with.

These guys are seasoned competitors and we can learn a lot from them, not to mention they’re really cool guys to boot. They introduced me to their translator, Andrew Costa, who explained the entire process for me. He showed me where I could do my pre-game prep.

When he told the other competitors in the prep room that I was “Canada’s Pizza Queen due ane (two years),” they wanted to lock me in the back room so I couldn’t compete. Andy wouldn’t have it.

He translated for me with the show facilitators and even got some extra time for me.

You’re officially only allotted 15 minutes to make and bake your pie. When it came time to present to the judges, they had questions. Without Andy, I would have stood there like a deer caught in headlights, dazed and stupefied … probably repeating ‘Sono Canadiene’ (I’m Canadian) and ‘Me chiamo Diana’ (my name is Diana). It might have been funny, but definitely not good for my score.

Andy was such a character that he even had the show facilitators and some of the crowd singing O’ Canada and cheering as we walked back from the judging table. Even though I didn’t really know anyone, I felt like I was among friends. 

Immediately upon exiting the competition area there was a heavyset gentleman anxiously awaiting to talk to me. It turns out he was the manager of the Croation Pizza Team and invited me to Croatia, to see and experience pizza there. Someone brought him a sliver of my pizza, and he ate it while we talked a while. He nodded approvingly at the taste and asked about my crust. He gave me a souvenir from Croatia, and I wished I had brought some Canadian souvenirs to give to him and his team members. Next year I’ll be bringing little flag pins and Canadian-themed lanyards and keychains to trade and giveaway. 

Pierre and I also made friends with the Irish Pizza Team. I affectionately renamed them The Irish Drinking Team with a Gourmet Pizza Making Problem. We had some extra Moosehead beer that we shared with them. I can’t print what they said, but let’s just say they really liked it.

We had them singing O’ Canada on the last night. Earlier they missed a bus from the hotel to the sport complex and then tried to get a ride with the U.S. Pizza Team (not to be confused with the World Pizza Champions) and were refused a seat on their bus, even though there were empty ones. So when we saw them walking along the street, we stopped and offered them a lift. It’s the Canadian thing to do. 

As I mentioned before, I spent quite a bit of time with six-time world champion Tony Gemignani – some of you may have seen him on the Food Network, not to mention a ton of daytime talk shows and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. This guy can toss dough like nobody else I’ve seen before. And while he’s tossing the dough all around he’s so relaxed; it’s like he’s channel surfing or something, barely paying attention. Very talented.

The acrobatic category is huge in Italy. It’s the entertainment side of the show. There are individual acrobat and team acrobat categories. This year, the World Pizza Champions took first in the team acrobatic category, which was essentially a seven-minute dough tossing play with a Star Wars theme.

Two other members, Giorgio Giove and Siler Chapman placed silver and bronze, respectively, in the individual tossing category. They deserved the wins. Out of all the competitors, all the winners had two things in common: they had themes to their routines and were entertaining to the crowd and judges.

I predict that this entertainment side of pizza will also become huge in Canada. If done right, it could be a big attraction for customers who also expect to be entertained when they go out to dine. Give them the experience and they’ll pay more. That’s the big reason Tony started tossing in his own pizzeria years ago – to attract the crowd.

So, I’m calling out all dough tossers – good and really good to try out for the Canadian Pizza Team. Practice, pick a theme, tie it to music and then have it videotaped and sent to coach Roberto. Anyone who is serious can check out Tony Gemignani’s tutorial video for some great tips on the World Pizza Champions’ web site, .

Information on the Canadian Pizza Team can be found on the Canadian Pizza Magazine web site, . I want to send out a big thank-you to Roberto for his efforts to form a Canadian team, and to Canadian Pizza Magazine for the same and also co-sponsoring me for these games. And last, but not least, I want to send a big thank-you to Moosehead Breweries for sponsoring me as part of the Canadian Pizza Team.•

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