The envelope please … and the winner is …
Another long, but very interesting day. We arrived at the competition venue at 8 am to register Keith for the fastest dough stretch. The competition began mid-morning and Keith was to compete toward the end of the category which was helpful for us so we could watch to see how others approached the contest and maybe get some idea of how easy or difficult the dough might be to work.
The techniques used varied considerably. Some very skilled pizzaiola used traditional techniques, slapping the dough around and finishing it with a very fast spin on the end of their finger (like a basketball). Others slapped the dough back and forth with such speed that it was impossible to understand how they were not ripping it to pieces. The times were all over the map, and prior to Keith going up hardly anyone had broken 1 minute.
We saw no one using Keith’s method, which was good since we knew it was very fast, but bad, because maybe it had been used in the past and found not to work. About 10 minutes before Keith was to try, a fellow came up to the table and moved very quickly flattening all five dough balls into hand sized discs, then stacked all five on top of one another and stretched all five at once – it was Keith’s method, he was using Keith’s method and he was going really fast. The stop watch recorded his time at 48 seconds, by far the fastest stretch thus far, and he had used Keith’s method (n hindsight I have no doubt he copied this technique after seeing the video clip of Keith practicing on our blog before we went to Italy – no one else at the competition used this technique. I know we have no one to blame but ourselves, but it is clear that he saw that clip, changed his technique to give himself a fighting chance against us).
Keith was up. I was assigned the very critical job of video taping the fury of activity that would last less than one minute; we wanted to capture this moment for everyone at home, but we had also been instructed by the more cynical veterans of the competition to record the performance and get a video record of the time in case any disputes arose. That seemed like it would be unlikely, but prudent since we were certainly contenders and so should there be any monkey business we could defend our victory with video footage.
Now, notwithstanding my earlier blog entry where I explained that our technical prowess with electronics helped us set-up our GSP without even having the instructions in english, it probably should have read “Keith’s technical prowess…” Okay, so I am not the technical whiz that I may have led you to believe; I can set my PVR to record a program and I am using a computer right now to write this, but cameras have never been my strong suit. So let me just break the news to you right now; I missed Keith’s entire performance and as such we had no way to dispute the final standings with our video evidence.
So here is how it kind of played out; when Keith finished his stretch and caught his breath he asked to see the video. We found the end of the last clip we had recorded and waited for the beginning of his dough stretching performance to begin. It opened with a shot of the floor and our voices, obviously me starting the video, but the shot of the floor was a very long piece of footage. We could here the conversation Keith and I had leading up to his stretching, discussing how the flour should be piled and where he would ask them to place the dough and how he would arrange the five 30 cm round screens that he would have to cover with the finished dough to prove they were all stretched to the regulation size. After a few minutes of the floor shot the camera was brought up and there was Keith standing, in focus and poised to begin this monumental performance with the judge standing right beside him, stop watch in hand. Seconds before the judge says go the video cuts to another terrific floor shot and we hear Keith’s breathless voice asking, “Did yo get that on video?”
Keith is not one to hold a grudge and he does not have room in his full life for regret. He took it all perfectly in stride (boy I wish I knew what he had really been thinking) and we agreed we would never again talk about this incident. We will not live in the past and so we will not spend endless evenings talking about what if, or theorizing about how the stop watch used to record Keith’s time could have been faulty, and back to, “if only we had the video to show”; no we are not going to do that, we are simply going to move on and relish the experience for what it was.
We spent the balance of the day in Salsamaggoire, waiting for the awards banquet to start that evening. We had a terrific lunch at a small hotel with many locals – fresh made ravioli with basil and ricotta in a butter sauce and their hand made parmesan cheese. A great lunch! With a couple of hours to kill we went to the local public pool that is fed by a natural hot springs and enjoyed a nice float while lamenting the dough stretching event from earlier in the day (he just won’t drop it).
Having become almost completely fluent in Italian since arriving here last week, the four hour banquet was not too bad. If we did win a major award last night we are sitting here in the hotel this morning still waiting for someone to tell us.
In the pizza classico category which Keith and I both competed, we did well. One of our pizzas was our mushroom marsala, which we knew would either be loved or not so much and the judges went for not so much. It is a very rich pizza and I guess they decided it was not their favorite. The other pizza was our Margherita, the very one we serve at Pomodori every day; we really wanted to know how the pizza would stack up in this venue. More than 260 competitors were entered in this category and scores were out of 1,000 points; the winner of the category scored 804, with several others scoring in the 700’s and our Margherita at 619! We need to review all the results, but it appears that gives us a top 100 finish, putting us in the top third of competitors which was the kind of result we were hoping for. Our first time here competing with some of the best in the world and we stacked up pretty well.
We also were entered into the Neopolatana category where we followed the Italian’s strict rules for making the Margherita. There are far fewer competitors in this category because it takes a special something to allow yourself to make a pizza according to someone else’s rules and then have them criticize your effort, but hey, what the. A total of 28 competitors in this category and again scored out of 1,000, the top Margherita Neopolatana scored 725 (when I say strict, I mean they are strict) and we scored 672 for eighth spot (only 2 points off 7th and 25 points from 3rd). This was a great result for Pomodori. Here in Italy, where pizza holds a revered spot in the culinary arts, and where the Margherita just might hold the top spot, we placed among the top ten makers of that pizza on the world stage. We could not be happier.
The competition is over and it has been a tremendous experience. Everyone at Pomodori has worked so very hard to make the restaurant a success and the support of our customers have made that work worthwhile. As we approach our first anniversary we leave this competition with just a bit more validation for all the work we are doing to make Pomodori a great pizza restaurant. We are going to take a few days to travel south, eating pizza and visiting a buffalo mozzarella farm, but can’t wait to get home to make our favorite food.