By Diana Coutu
By Diana Coutu
It was with great honour that I attended this year’s World Pizza Championship games in Italy as a judge for the pizza baking competitions. The oldest and the largest of world pizza games, this event attracts the most international contenders. For the past three years I’ve been a competitor, so when I was invited to be a judge I thought it would be interesting to see the games from the other side of the table, not to mention a huge honour and feather in my cap.
It was with great honour that I attended this year’s World Pizza
Championship games in Italy as a judge for the pizza baking
competitions. The oldest and the largest of world pizza games, this
event attracts the most international contenders. For the past three
years I’ve been a competitor, so when I was invited to be a judge I thought it would be interesting
to see the games from the other side of the table, not to mention a
huge honour and feather in my cap.
The baking competitions are judged in three categories. The first is at
the ovens, where each competitor is assigned a competition area. Judges
will give up to 100 points for technique, cleanliness and
professionalism. The designated judge assesses the pizza maker’s skills
and checks the ingredients that they use. For instance, if the person
is baking an STG pizza (also known as Napolitano pizza), there are very
strict rules as to where each ingredient is sourced and how the pizza
is made. If a participant ignores any of the rules, the judge will give
the pizza maker a failing score and inform the other judges to assign
This very infraction actually happened at our table on the first day.
Although the pizza was baked nicely and tasted pretty good, the pizza
maker ignored the rules for the STG category and the competition area
judge told us that we had to fail that pizza because it did not meet
the qualifications for the division. While there are other baking
categories to enter where “anything goes”, the STG is not one of them.
I’m very happy to say that there were a couple of Canadians from New
Brunswick named Stephen and Keith from Pomodori restaurant who entered
this category for the first time and had an exceptional eighth place
The second and third categories are handled by the tasting judges. Up
to 100 points can be given for the how well the pizza was baked. If the
pie was undercooked or overcooked it will be reflected in this
category. All the judges seemed to think that the bake of all the
pizzas on the second day was a lot better, although none of us could
The third category is for taste or how well the flavours complement
each other on the pizza. Up to 100 points can be awarded in this
entirely subjective section of the competition. What I may find very
palatable and enjoyable, another judge may find too spicy or sweet. I
know from my own pizza preferences that my husband doesn’t care for the
spiciness that I love, but I can’t handle too much of the sweet pizzas
that he likes. That’s why there are typically four tasting judges at
each table. My first shift was with a judge from northern Italy, one
from the south, a flour guy, and me. Between all of our diverse palates
we still agreed on what made a pizza great.
Over the course of two days, I judged almost 50 pizzas from around the
globe. Competitors were brought to our table to present their pizzas
and describe their creations. Many paired their pies with beer, wine
and champagne. Whether or not it was simply a ploy to endear the judges
to their pizzas I cannot say, but I believe all of us enjoyed the
Typically judges asked questions about the length of time given for the
dough to proof, the method they used for making dough (direct,
indirect, poolish, bigga), the type of flour used and of course, what
the pizza was topped with. It was an amazing experience and you could
really taste the difference between a direct method crust, an indirect,
a poolish, and a bigga. Each tasting judge could give up to 200 points,
which combined with the competition area judge’s score equaled a total
of 900 possible points for each pizza maker.
The last day is when they hold the rest of the competitions, such as
the fastest slap, largest stretch and freestyle acrobatics. My husband
Pierre was not allowed to compete in any of the baking categories
because of possible favouritism, so he happily entered the fastest slap
category. This is where the competitor is given five eight-ounce dough
balls and must slap them out to 12-inch screens as fast as they can.
Pierre was officially the fastest Canadian in this category, only
seconds off of a World Pizza Champion’s time.
The crowd and judges were highly entertained with the freestyle acrobat
competition. World Pizza Champions team member Justin Wadstein wowed
everyone once again this year by lighting a dough skin on fire and then
spinning it. Then he did the same trick but with the skin on a board!
It was pretty spectacular. You can watch videos from the 2009 World
Pizza Championship games on YouTube. Just search dianacoutu (no space)
to find them.
Diana Coutu is a two-time Canadian Pizza Magazine chef of the year
champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, co-owner of
Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg, Man., and a member of the board
of directors for the CRFA. In addition to creating award-winning
recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other independent pizzeria
owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria
on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators
grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for
consulting on a limited basis, for more information contact her at