The American Pizza Championship

Jeremy and Steve Lieber at The American Pizza Championship

  Last week I was given the opportunity to judge the US Pizza Championship at the Restaurant Association and Lodging Show in Orlando, FL. I was first asked by my good friend, Director of Operations for the U.S. Pizza Team, Steve Lieber to be a judge for the competition. If you recall, on my recent trip to New York I got to learn more about the art of pizza making when I met with world champion pizza maker and member of the U.S pizza team, Hakki (read blog for more). I learned that pizza making is not all about cheese to sauce ratio, it’s about your passion for pizza. Pizza is one of my all time favorite comfort foods and I do recall many memories of my family gathering around a hot, bubbly, oozing cheesy, thin crust pizza. Bringing all my pizza knowledge I was joined by two other judges, Executive Chef Michael Bersell of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Master Pizzaiolo, Giulio Adriani, winner of the 2010 America’s Plate and owner of “Olio Pizza e Piu” in New York’s West Village.

Jeremy and Executive Chef Michael Bersell of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

 Before taking my seat on the stage I was welcomed by “Pizza Enthusiast” Scott Wiener who was the competition’s master of ceremonies. Scott runs “Scott’s Pizza Tours”, that showcases some of the greatest pizza parlors in all of New York City. Purely passionate about a good crust, Scott shared some of his pizza wisdom with me and asked me question’s along the way to share with the audience. It was time to start the competition as I took a seat next to the other judges. Facing the judges podium stood a makeshift pizza kitchen, equipped with two deck ovens, a conveyor belt, 3 long metal tables, and a demo mirror hanging above so everyone could catch a glimpse of the action.

The Judges discuss a type of flour used in the Pizza's

 The first pizza set the standard for what was to come, a ‘ninja” pizza with dough shaped like a ninja’s blade topped with spinach, raisins, and believe it or not, edible gold. I did enjoy the flavors of the pizza especially the sweetness of the raisins. From there on the pizza’s just got more interesting and unique. For Guilio the dough and crust played a major role in his judging, he would inspect the crust and with one bite he could instantly tell if it was good or not.

The creation of the "Ninja" Pizza

One pizza was dubbed the “Hulk” as this deep-dish pizza had a titanic sized crust that would challenge any pizza fanatic. Some pizzas were topped with everything but the kitchen sink and other’s where kept to a minimum of fresh ingredients. The judging was scored on appearance, taste, and viability. By the 6th pizza I learned not to gorge every last bit of the slice but rather take from tip and the lip (crust).

Two of the entries out of the oven, ready to be judged

 After 18 delicious entries I was full and ready to explode. The judging wrapped up, the tallies were totaled and the winners were ready to be announced. Third place went to Romano Ramusevic for his Adriatic Pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, baby lobster tail, shrimp, fresh scallops, and lump crab meet all nestled on a lobster bisque sauce! In Second place came Damian “Dutch” Van Oostendrop with his Pizza Bianco. Baby arugula dressed in olive oil and scattered with pine nuts and four types of cheese, Feta, Romano, Parmesan Reggiano, and Whole milk Mozzarella. In first place, “drum roll please…“ with his “Pizza a la Vodka” which consisted of a delicate, rich layer of smooth vodka cream sauce, fresh mushrooms, prosciutto, green peas, olive oil and aged Romano cheese was Cemal Ramusevic! Cemal and third place winner Romano are brothers, I guess tomato sauce runs through that family’s veins. The three winning contestants where awarded a Pizza Peel plaque and Cemal was given a spot on the U.S. Pizza Team which competes all over the world.

L to R: Steve Lieber (US Pizza Team), Romano Ramusevic (3rd place),
Damian “Dutch” Van Oostendrop (2nd Place), Cemal Ramusevic (1st place) and
Liz Barrett (Editor-in-Chief, PMQ  Pizza Magazine)

 In the end it was a spectacular, delicious and filling experience for me. Congratulations to the winners and all the other contestants who competed but were not triumphant. No need to worry though, these pizza crafters will travel back to their pizza’s labs and parlors to create and serve what is known as the great “American Pizza” and who knows, maybe they will rise victorious at next year’s show.

Keep on Cooking!!!

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