Earlier this month, I spent two days sitting at a table eating pizza made by some of the world’s best pizza makers. I was a judge at the Caputo Cup Pizzaiuolo Championship in NYC, an awesome event run by the Italian importers at Orlando Foods. The competition pits 75+ top pizzaioli (pizza makers) against each other in two categories: Pizza Napoletana STG and New York style. The latter is a free form competition with minor limits on toppings and cheeses. I judged Pizza Napoletana STG, a strict code that allegedly adheres to traditional techniques and methodology. When I say it’s strict, I mean that every detail of the process and product have been outlined in detail.
You’d be surprised how much variation there is even when competitors are following a strict set of guidelines. Something seemingly small like the size of cheese chunks being too large can ruin an otherwise perfect pizza. But we also look at the finer details in an effort to dock points for technical malfunctions.
Take a look at these two photos. The first is the underside of a slice that was coated in too much flour. It has a yellowish tint and tasted bitter and gross. It’s also poorly baked, which you can tell by the uneven charring.
This next photo shows the underside of a well baked pizza. Charring is even and there’s no excess flour to bitter the bottom. It was delicious, I remember it well!
We sampled about 30 pizzas each day, which is tough to handle on both a physical and mental level. All we can do is stay focused on what we’re looking and tasting for, then score accurately. But that means only taking a couple bites of each slice and not drinking anything but water along the way. I always bring an apple or something similar to balance the palate. It seems to work, because the pies I scored highest ended up being favorites of the other two judges as well.
I don’t envy the competitors. They have one shot at making a great pie and the difference between a hit and a miss could be a matter of seconds or a bad turn in the oven. Everybody at Caputo Cup did a great job and I felt honored to be a part of such an exciting competition. I’m already hungry for next year!
(last photo by Clay Williams / Gothamist)