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Judging The World Pizza Cup, Part Two

 No matter how much you love pizza, there will always be a point in which you’ve had enough. It happened to me on the second day of the Pizza World Championship in Parma, Italy. I had already tasted over forty pizzas and the line between mozzarella and provolone was beginning to blur. I had to tap out. One of the on-deck judges filled my place and I took a much-needed stroll around the venue. This was the first competition I’ve ever judged that involved self-regulation like this. Usually we evaluate a round of 10 pizzas and take a break, but I rather enjoyed the longer stretch in Parma because it allowed me greater perspective on the breadth of competitors. Still, it’s hard it is to walk away from the judges’ table knowing that the next pie could be the gold medal winner.

A Margherita presentation

A Margherita presentation


These crazy pizza games are never just about food. Just like the International Pizza Expo [link] in Las Vegas, the event in Parma hosted a series of non-culinary contests. They test various activities like fastest and largest dough stretch, but the event everybody waits for is Freestyle Acrobatics. After a long day (or two) of pizza eating, it’s massively enjoyable to kick back and watch people from all over the world perform their routines. It may not help much in the kitchen, but it sure is entertaining!


Jonathan Goldsmith, of Chicago's wonderful Spacca Napoli, judging with his fellow judges

Jonathan Goldsmith, of Chicago’s wonderful Spacca Napoli, evaluating with his fellow judges

One thing I noticed about all the competitions at the Pizza World Championship was that most of the judges – in both culinary and non-culinary competitions – were super serious. I don’t know how these guys kept a straight face during a dough tossing routine backed by the Mortal Kombat theme, but that’s exactly what they did. Judging these competitions in Italy is an extremely serious business and they clearly chose the right people to fill the arbitration tables.

The final degree of seriousness was on full display at the event’s closing ceremony.

Tony Gemignani (red hat), the Pizza in Pala champion

Tony Gemignani (red hat), the Pizza in Pala champion

Incredible medals, trophies, and certificates were awarded for each competition. I did my best to follow the ceremony, which was 98% in Italian, but I know there were more prize categories than the number of actual competitions. The first prize distribution went to the highest scoring representative of each country in attendance. There were over 33 countries, so you can imagine the string of pizzaioli called to the stage for certificates. Next came the expected series of prizes for each culinary and non-culinary competition. Whenever a set of winners had been announced, Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blasted over the speakers. It was incredible. I must have heard the song at least forty times that night.

The winners celebrate!

A few of the winners celebrate!

Our two American winners!

Our two American winners, Tony and Jamie!

Two American teams competed in the events and each walked away with a gold medal! The US Pizza Team’s Jamie Culliton performed a perfect routine and took home first prize in the Freestyle Acrobatics competition. Tony Gemignani, of The World Pizza Champions, scored top prize in the Pizza in Pala category. Watching both teams celebrate their respective victories was truly thrilling. It takes a real mix of hard work and talent to even compete at these events, so you can imagine the excitement of winning.

The judges scoring a very intricate pizza

The judges scoring a very intricate pizza

You can live a happy and fulfilling life making pizza without ever attending one of these events, but there’s a huge benefit that comes without ever touching a trophy: camaraderie. Just when you think the world is going down the tubes and we’ll never get along, there’s a room full of people who have come together from all over the planet for the sole purpose of celebrating pizza. You may not speak the same language, but you still manage to understand each other perfectly. That is the true gem of the pizza community and the aspect I enjoyed the most about attending the Pizza World Championship in Parma.

Our own Scott Weiner (left), and Jonathan Goldsmith (right), book ending champion Graziano

Our own Scott Weiner (left), and fellow judge Jonathan Goldsmith (right), book ending Graziano Bertuzzo, who is the head master instructor of the Scuolo Italiano Pizzaioli school, and the competition coordinator.

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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.

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