April 26, 2013

Respecting the Craft: Food competitions

Q: Why compete in food competitions at International Pizza Expo or anywhere else?

A: As an owner everything is done to my specifications and wants. It is rare that I am tested and that I am out of my element. There really isn’t anyone to tell me that I am wrong or that my recipe isn’t that great. In competition you are forced to use an oven that you have never seen or used before, make an amazing pizza under imperfect conditions and then attempt to explain and prove to a panel of judges that you’ve never met before why your pizza is better than everyone else’s. Competition makes you become better than you were when you first walked in. It tests you not only as a person and an individual but as a chef and artisan. It forces you to figure out how to best win, taking into account every possible factor and possibility of something going wrong. Everyone at a competition thinks they have the best pie and that they are the best pizzaiolo around. Entering a food challenge means that you are not going to settle for being the best just at your restaurant, but are willing to show yourself and the world that you are the best at your craft. Competing also increases your marketability. If you win, a story is most likely going to be written about you, although winning isn’t a requirement for getting press. Entering the competition alone allows people to write preliminary and follow up stories about you, maximizing your chances for good press.


Q: Could I use a dough sheeter or dough press to make my pizzas?

A: I do not recommend using a sheeter or a press for making any style of pizza other than thin crust. If you are making Neapolitan pizza you especially want to stay away from sheeters and presses. When you are hand-pushing dough the objective is to keep the gas in the dough but to readjust it and move it towards your crust. Using a sheeter or press goes against everything an artisan does and wants to achieve by taking out all the gas that they have worked so hard to create by proofing their dough. Typically, dough presses heat up the dough as it is pressing it out and that is something you want to stay away from. Also, there is an oil of some sort used on presses that leaves a residual flavor and film on the dough that is not to my liking. If I am making thin crust pizza I first prefer using a rolling pin and then maybe a sheeter.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT is a new column featuring World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento. Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.