I really got lucky with my project in Florida… Just a few hours driving from my office is the magical Orlando, Florida, filled with Disney, dining, waterparks, Universal, and … pizza? Yes, pizza! Every year, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Show takes place in Orlando. The Orlando Pizza Show has a space at the venue filled with vendors and a competition area. This three-day event brings in 450 booths and a ton of restaurant owners & operators… and me! I was able to make it to the show for one day and I attended the American Pizza Championship.
Over 15 pizzaiolos from all over the country (and outside the USA) came to make their best pizzas and get scored by four qualified judges. The winner would join the US Pizza team and go on to compete all over the world! This event was unlike anything I had seen before. Unlike the Pizza Summit, vendors lined the aisles trying to sell their products to everyone. Also, the added intensity of the American Pizza Championship made my day much more fulfilling.
I honestly felt like a groupie. I took tons of pictures, tweeted the whole time and was amazed at all these pizza makers who came from successful pizzerias with their own recipes and skills. I remember walking up to a pizzaiolo and introducing myself.
“Hi, my name is Felicia… I’m a pizza blogger from Chicago and LOVE pizza.”
The guy next to him gets up and says, “No, I love pizza,” and shows me his neck which has a tattoo stating “I LOVE PIZZA” and a pizza slice. His name is Wilhelm Rodriguez and he is a kickass pizza acrobat (yes, they exist). That meeting set the standard for the event. These guys are serious pizza makers. Not only do they love to eat it (like me), they love to make it.
Regardless, I felt so welcomed by all the competitors. They loved hearing about my blog and my passion for pizza. They urged me to check out their pizza places when I was in town, and we struck up some good conversations. My buddy, Alessandro from Scuola Vecchia, was there for his first time, and Jamie Culliton from Grimaldi’s was a friendly guy who has had great success at the competitions.
The competition lasted ALL DAY. Seriously. Two competitors at a time could make their pizzas: they had two types of ovens and they had to make two pizzas. One of those pizzas were sent back to the judges and the other was shared among the audience. All types of pizzas were created: deep dish, thick crust, Neopolitan, cracker-thin, Detroit-style, unique gourmet, crazy toppings, basic toppings, you name it. I was definitely in the audience to try the pizzas, and I Tweeted many photos. After the third competitor, I started getting full… this was bad news! So I slowed it down, took only a few bites of each pizza and used some willpower to resist the rest.
I also got the awesome chance to make pizza with Frank Baird, a pizzaiolo who owns restaurants in Ohio,has been featured on the Food Network and won past competitions. He helped me make his signature gourmet pizza. I was elated. I’ve got the photos to prove it and the smile on my face explains it all.
Another highlight was meeting Chef Santo Bruno who actually opened New York Slices near my hometown in Highland Park. He was making pizza in the Marsal & Sons pizza ovens and has been inducted into the Pizza Hall of Fame. Pretty awesome. Seriously, everybody was nice. I want to be Matt McClellan from Tour De Pizza who has a great heart and love for only pizza judging by his 30-day pizza diet.
What more can I say?! I had a great time, met some great people, ate lots of pizza and got psyched about the Pizza Expo that will take place in Las Vegas. I don’t know if I will ever be a pizza maker, but I will definitely be their best groupie!