Thoughts on Pizza Judging
Excerpts From "American Pie" by Ed LaDou
“Late this last summer I had the opportunity to contribute to the judging of pizzas at two different food shows. One was the Western Foodservice Los Angeles show and the other was the Orlando Florida Food Expo.
For anyone who has been seduced by the romance of judging food or wine, the reality of the experience is far more clinical than one would hope.
I had done pizza judging before. Once in Las Vegas at the Pizza Expo and once at NAPIC’s in Columbus Ohio. In Ohio I offered my limited expertise in two events; best “traditional” pizza and best “gourmet” pizza. It was absolutely overwhelming, and quickly became less “fun” and more “work”.
Now I’ve also done a share of judging wine over the years, and I’m sure most are familiar with the concept of the spit bucket. In judging wine, one does not necessarily swallow the wine one tastes, although I usually found the temptation too great to overcome (At least with the more palatable ones). But nonetheless, one can work through a good many tastes of wine before becoming inebriated. I’m talking sips here, folks.
But with food tasting, sadly, there is no spit bucket. No vomitorium either, with toga clad attendants offering pheasant feathers and warm aromatic towels. You’re pretty much left to your own devices when it comes to swallowing, a predicament many of us thought we would never encounter.
And not only that, if the first pizzas are truly good, and one is truly hungry, the self control needed to pace ones self through the entirety of the competition is massive. I mean, really, who can eat just one potato chip?”
“The challenge I faced in judging the traditional pizza was in establishing a common definition for traditional pizza. This also was a problem with the gourmet pizza category.
I was stymied by a lack of a useful and accepted criteria which was to apply to the pizzas I tasted. Of the many pizzas that showcased chicken, in both the traditional and gourmet categories, not one cooked their own chicken, and all used packaged or frozen products instead of fresh. While creativity seems to have infiltrated the pizza sphere, quality and freshness have not gained the toe hold I would have hoped.
How does one rate a pizza that actually has no sauce, but instead relies upon the balance and variety of its toppings? Does this mean that the pizza does not qualify for the points that one with a sauce does, and therefore is handicapped?
Why is there no rating for quality of ingredients? Why do the pizza publications promote the winners of competitions, but often skip entirely
what type pizza it was that won? We know how the American team placed in Italy, but do we know what was on the winning pizzas? How were they made? Is that even of interest?
In the world of pizza there are handfuls of “experts” who actually know what makes one business more successful than another, or one pizza “taste better” than another. Prying this information from them may be as likely has having them divulge their own pizza dough recipes. The “experts” relied upon within the industry are few, and in many cases ride for a specific range or brand the same circuits, year after year.
The United States has the largest and most diverse agricultural bounty of any country, as well as the resources to access every ethnic and regional product or food grown planet wide within hours. Our culinary schools are spitting out cooks and chefs in a production line that would make Henry Ford proud. Pizza is now part of the United States cultural heritage, and not the adopted step child of any European cousin.
The United States has advanced the development and the popularity of pizza well beyond any expectations of years ago. The Americanization of pizza should not proceed like a carnival side show, but should step up to the standards of industry and craft that is the basis of our way of life and heritage. Oh, I have some ideas on the subject... but I’ve got to get back to Caioti Pizza Cafe and make dough.”