Fight songs from movies raced through my head the morning of the competition. I was up by 6:30 am(!) and down to the kitchen to evaluate and collect all my things.
Risin up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
In my head, I'm a boxer in the movies with quick feet, swinging some gloved jabs into the innocent air in front of me as I walk out to the crowd roar and cameras flashing like the fourth of july.
Went the distance
Now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive
The morning was long, and no roar of the crowd greeted me as I passed through the show room doors into the emptiness of early arrival. I made my way to the area of the competition after checking in. It seemed like hours before anyone even told us what was going on.
I had prepared myself for nervousness and isolation. Previous years being a convention goer, I was a dough-eyed wanderer in the belly of the beast trying to figure out what the hell I'm actually getting myself into. But it turned out to be quite the opposite once the day started moving. My companion and only supporter in this sea of newness was my friend Greg Phelps. Many people know him as the guy with the baby doll heads on his car, though he's got a new and somewhat less baby doll headed art car. You may also know him as stop #417 on the Columbus Public Art Walk coming soon! He's an event organizer by trade and has some connections at the convention center, so he pulled some strings and got into the event without having to pay the $34.95 to enter. He turned out to be my eye in the sky roving reporter, taking all the pictures in this blog post and putting them up on facebook as the situation unfolded. My wife (and probably many others) was following his posts, kept abreast by his awesomeness! It was great to know someone in the audience, rooting for me in the middle of the mayhem. He didn't have the goremade body paint, pepperoni bikini nor the air horn he said he'd bring with him, but his support was more than enough!
After checked in, we were handed an envelope containing several papers of various officialness. One paper assigned each competitor a number that served as our identification for the event and which corresponded to one half of a 6 ft table that was our space for the competition. I was number 27 for the day.
The Pizza: Pirate's Booty
Ingredients: Dungeness Crab, Chipotle Aioli, Boursin, Truffled Olive Oil and Smoked Sea Salt.
I spent the better part of two weeks working out the best way to take those ingredients and make the best pizza I could make, practicing on 8" pizzas to save on ingredient costs. This is the first time I'd attempted to really perfect a pizza, as I'd only ever made it a couple times in the past. Everyone else in the Pizza Pizzazz competition was making a pizza that they'd made countless times in day-to-day business, where as I was flyin' by the seat of my pants. I'd never even made a 16" pizza, and found that I didn't really know how to stretch a dough that big, so I was going in this thing a bit unprepared. But I had drive and confidence and passion and readiness!
It's the eye of the tiger
It's the thrill of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge
Of our rival
Once they announced the beginning of the competition, there was a rush of unpacking and preparing around me. They had only announced the first 5 competitors and I was a little confused why so many people were getting busy. After a little investigation, I found myself to be among the very last in the list of competitors with time to kill. There was no timeframe. A simple "not for a while" was all I could get, keeping me close for most of the day.
I soon realized how cool it was to be surrounded by people with a similar passion for pizza! I walked the tables, peering into secret ingredients and techniques, honed over years of practical application. I saw shrimp, squash, corn, peppadew. Pizzas that looked more like salads. Dough paper thin and three inches thick. Knives, pans, dockers. Corn meal and flour. So many different ingredients, equipment and techniques to take in.
Among the competitors from all over the country, I was also able to meet several pizza folk from the columbus area, which was super cool! Gary from Clever Crow, Eric from Dewey's Pizza, Peter from Figlio, John from Avalanche Pizza in Athens, OH (who also has a great pizza web blog as the pizza goon!). It was nice to be able to chat with these guys and pick their brains, being able to meet the competition and start things off on a friendly note. Eric from Dewey's invited me to come hang out and play some sunday before they opened. He also said he'd lend some pizza people to help out when I start the whole mobile pizza thing! Super nice guy.
Back on the competition floor, someone forgot dusting flour, so I handed him my bag. It was like that. Anything that anyone needed was supplied by a neighbor. "Anyone have a knife?". An enthusiastic "Here you go" came in an instant. There was a sense of camaraderie that I didn't anticipate. It poured over the competition floor like a warm breeze in the dead of winter. We all were there to win, mind you. But we were all unified by the glory and the love of pizza.
I ended up meandering in the area where they brought the left-overs that the judges didn't finish off, so there was a constant flow of deliciousness. They weren't labeled, so it was blind consumption. But there were some delicious flavor combinations and really interesting textures. Every pizza was a different kind of delicious. It made me realize how difficult it would be to compare such different pizzas and pick a winner.
After many many many minutes, the final call was given for anyone who had not yet made their pizzas to start. I was in that group, so I scuttled off to do what I truly came here to do.
You're the best, around
Nothin's gonna ever keep ya down
You're the best, around
Nothin's gonna ever keep ya doooooown
Most everyone had made their pizza by the time I was up. I couldn't decide if it was advantageous or disadvantageous to go last, but that didn't matter. It was time. The one thing my mother said to me was to remember to have fun! This was indeed the most important thing. Winning and losing are second to enjoyment. If I win after a hideous day, it would be a hollow win. A loss after a great experience is still a great experience. I made my pizza with a smile ear to ear.
I had heard some talk about past ovens being quite unsatisfying, but this year was absolutely not that. They have two ovens available for use. A conveyer oven and a deck oven. Conveyer ovens are just that. You put a pizza in a pan and send it through a conveyer that cooks it and you pick it up at the other end. A deck oven is any oven that you can cook a pizza directly on the floor. This specific oven was a Woodstone Dual Gas Fired oven, with flames on both the left and right sides of the oven. They were independently adjustable, allowing for temperature adjustments for each side. After using my mobile wood fired oven, it was like going from a 1984 Ford Fiesta to a 2012 fully equipped Cadillac XTS. It was an easy cook, and I could see the ease of cooking many pizzas at a time with it, as opposed to the tight space of my home wood fired oven and the one-at-a-time routine I've adapted. In the application, I asked for a 600º oven. When it was my time, the temp gage one inch into the floor of the oven read 480º with an assumed internal temp of 525º. Surprisingly, it worked out perfectly!
They told us the announcement for the final 6 would be announced in 15 minutes, so we waited. The MC of the event came out and there was a hush. He started listing the numbers of the contestants who made it to the finals, there being 7 instead of 6 as there was a tie. Listing them in numerical order, he began: 1, 6, 14... his skip from 26 to 33 made me sharply aware that I was not advancing to the final round. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good. I did the best I knew how to do, and that's all I could ask for. Winning $6,000 would have been a great boost in start-up capital, but the event took me to another level, which is priceless!
So many time, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive
Not making it to the final round left me with enough ingredients for two more 16" pizzas, so I invited Greg and his wife Danuta over to enjoy the spoils of our loss. I stuck around long enough to see the guy from Figlio make his pizza, which looked pretty amazing (Ahi tuna with all sorts of garnishes), then headed home for a bit of a rest, missing the final verdict for a nice respite and to tell the tale to my wife.
At the end of the day, I felt pretty good about things. I met so many wonderful folk and made some new pizza friends. I got shirts and business cards printed. This was something that needed to be done, but I was failing to do. I used the momentum of the event to push me over a couple humps. I also got to involve myself in a professional event, going toe to toe with the best of em! And I'll be much better prepared for next year! I felt good about my pizza, and I felt good about my performance. It gave me something to talk about, and it's keeping me going. And every picture in this blog shows me with a grin on my face! This can't be a bad thing.
One more step in the right direction!
Nick Gore was a corporate peon by day who just made the leap to full time pizza geek. Follow his path to world class Pizzaiolo right here on the GoreMade Pizza blog. Also, check out the facebook page.