In the Kitchen
Vegetarian pizza notes: The Pizza Chef
The lighter side of pizza
Earlier this year, I flew to Las Vegas to judge the pizza culinary competitions for the International Pizza Challenge. Many people think judging a pizza competition is the best job in the world; however, it’s not all glamour and glitter.
While it was a great honour to fill a chair, as with many things, there is a downside. Over the course of three days, I smelled and tasted more than 100
pizzas. When judging, you’re only sitting: there’s no getting up to walk around and get blood flowing to help digest all that food. All those pizzas – well, it was just too many in too short a time frame. And, I’ll be honest, not all of them were great.
There’s a saying that’s often quoted to me: “Pizza is like sex, there’s no such thing as bad pizza.” I’ve always disagreed. The last day I wasn’t feeling so good. I couldn’t wait to get home to my own food. More than anything, I needed to go for a long walk.
While judging, I was served all sorts of pizzas loaded up with tons of meat toppings. With a few of them I couldn’t be sure what kind of meat it was. One definitely smelled funky! I couldn’t be sure the pizzas I was judging were made with real-food ingredients. That’s not to say my experience was entirely bad, I was served a few absolutely fabulous pizzas; one dessert pizza that still lingers, and a few pizzas with edible flowers that were so very pretty as well as tasty. The last day I judged the gluten-free pizza baking category. Wow! Some of them I would have sworn were made with wheat flour. Several were creatively topped and very tasty. But, after 31 gluten-free pizzas, too much of anything isn’t good for the body or the soul.
In the weeks prior to leaving for Las Vegas, I had been eating mostly vegetarian meals. I can’t say exactly why, only that I was guided to cook and eat vegetarian dishes and pizzas, and that meat no longer appealed to me. I’ve been doing a lot of meditation to enhance natural intuition, increase metabolism and clairvoyance, and I was finding that many of my tastes were changing.
Naturally, every judge will have their own preferences and tastes, which makes for a better competition; if everyone thought that every generic budget pepperoni and mushroom
pizza was the best there was to be had, well, that would make for a very short and boring competition. A fellow judges mentioned that it seemed like we’d tasted the same pepperoni and bacon pizza at least six times in one heat.
While your pizza may be the number 1 seller on your menu, it won’t be enough to wow a judge’s palate when they’ve already tasted a dozen other pizzas that are pretty much all the same. When you consider the cost of entering and attending a culinary competition, you want to bring something that’s unique to your menu, unique to your region, or an entirely new creation.
Last October, the pizza that took top honours at the Canadian Pizza Show was entirely vegetarian, and, it’s not hard to see why it won. It was very different from the other entries. All the veggies were independently sautéed, or roasted, and enhanced with herbs and spices. It was unusual to find spiced pecans and beets on a pizza, but the combined textures and flavours were very satisfying, and no one seemed to notice there wasn’t any meat on this ’zza. It scored the highest among all of my fellow judges: even with all of our differing preferences and tastes, this one appealed to all of us. It’s worth mentioning that this winning pizza was lightly, or rather, sparsely, topped; the old adage that less is more is especially true when making a pizza for a competition. In Vegas, some of the pizzas I judged had more than a dozen toppings on them, piled high one on top of the other, until you attempted to pick up the slice to eat it, at which point they all fell off. Pizza isn’t designed to hold that many toppings, not even a deep dish or a pan pizza. Pizzas that score the highest in all the competitions I’ve judged have had toppings that were sparsely laid out rather than stacked on top of each other.
Whether you’ve already entered a pizza competition, or are considering entering one, I hope this column has been helpful. I wish all competitors good luck and a good competition!
Unil next column, be well!
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine Chef of the Year, three-time winner of “Canada’s Best Pizza Chef” at international pizza competitions, a judge for international pizza culinary competitions in Las Vegas, Italy and France, and a partner with Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is a consultant to other 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 email@example.com