If pizza competition can get any more intense than the World Pizza Championship, I don’t think my body will be able to handle it. Earlier this month, hundreds of the world’s best pizza makers - representing over 35 different countries – flocked to Parma, Italy for three days of competition and camaraderie. I was honored to be invited to sit on the the culinary panel as one of forty judges.
The competition was split into five categories: pizza a due (pairs of pizzaioli and chefs) and gluten free were judged in separate areas, leaving the bulk of the judges with the big categories: Pizza Classics, STG, Pizza in Teglio ( pizza in a pan), and Pizza in Pala (pizza on the peel). When I judge the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, each panel reviews one single category at a time. At the World Pizza Championship, all four styles happen simultaneously. Judges receive a procession of entries and rate the bake and overall taste, awarding 30-100 points for each.
Some entries come on lavishly decorated serving trays, accompanied by a carefully-selected wine pairing. The pizzaiolo describes his or her method and the judges are able to ask questions if anything is unclear. We keep our scores private and don’t ever talk about the pizzas we’re tasting.
Jonathan Goldsmith, of Spacca Napoli in Chicago, was the only American judge besides myself. Most of the other judges were past winners or experts in the European pizza industry.
Apparently judges used to award scores for presentation, but this year it was all about the pizza. Even so, several competitors created lavish parade floats with which to present their pies.
The competition was heavily populated by Italians, but two Americans did well enough to take home top honors. Jamie Cullinton won the gold for his freestyle dough acrobatic routine and Tony Gemignani won first place in the Pizza In Pala category.
The competition was completely insane. I’m so glad I went and very much look forward to returning again next year!