Here we go again… Another ‘World’s Best’ culinary contest has hit the news and another individual has been singled out from a multitude for his creation. This time, it’s a classic Neapolitan Pizza Margarita. Aside: Is it a testament to the truly global nature of our civilization that the winner was an Australian?
Not long ago, I asked, in a post about a World Cheese Championship contest in the U.S., whether we can, in good conscience, proclaim any one product in a broad classification the ‘World’s Best’? Is an exemplary Emmentaler better than a prize Parmesan or a classic Cheddar? And who are the high and exalted ‘experts’ who make the ultimate decision? What qualifies them to say yea or nay?
I opined as the issue is just too subjective to yield any definitive result to the most earnest cogitations of mere mortals. But, if there’s one thing the 20th Century will be remembered for in history, it will be that it was the century of trivial competition – the hallmark of which will ever and always be The Guinness Book of World Records. Trivial? Certainly. After all, it was first conceived by the famous brewery as a means of settling bar bets! People have, ever since, been thinking up crazy things to do, just to get into the book. Sad.
Now it’s Pizza…
So… Johnny Di Francesco, owner of the 400 Gradi restaurant in Melbourne, AU, was named World’s Best Pizza Maker at the annual Pizza World Championship held in Parma, Italy, last week. Really? An Aussie? Well, he’s does have a culturally-correct sort of name and a family tradition of Pizza perfection. And he was apparently only one of more than 600 Pizza chefs from around the world to compete. And he has traveled to Italy to take the certification course in Pizza making that earns one the right to call their pies ‘Genuine Neapolitan’. And… He’s already quite a figure in the Aussi Pizza community, with his mug on the logo of his own eponymously-branded Pizza Crust Flour!
Now, I’ll admit that the rules of this contest were more standardized and restricted than the aforementioned Cheese Competition. The only ingredients competitors could use were: Water, Salt, Flour, Yeast, Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Garlic, Olive Oil and fresh Basil Leaves. And let me tell you, that makes a great pizza; the original Neapolitan Pizza; the Pizza Margarita! (And, no, I’m not hyping it just because it’s my namesake…)
Also, in defense of the Pizza Contest, it’s all part of the relatively recent Italian drive to reclaim and protect the reputation of its prize food ‘brands’ which have imitators around the world: Classic Italian wine region names, Cheeses, and the one true, original Neapolitan Pizza. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Naples, Italy, has been hard at the latter crusade since late last century.
Every one of us has his or her own idea of what the perfect Pizza is, or should be, and I think it’s pretentious and pompous for a bunch of unnamed, self-appointed ‘experts’ in Italy to tell us what we should like. On the other hand, such a contest is a great promotional tool for the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, and a valid exercise in measuring the skill of Pizza makers against the official criteria. But that doesn’t mean a lot to billions of ordinary Pizza Lovers worldwide.
I, personally don’t like the classic, original thin and crispy Neapolitan Pizza Crust. Nor do I like so-called ‘Chicago’ deep-dish Pizza. I prefer a crispy bottom crust with a chewy interior. And a medium load of toppings. Don’t order me one with ‘extra’ anything – unless its Cheese!
So, congratulations, Johnny Di Francesco! The contest victory has made his formerly humble Pizza joint in Melbourne a mecca for Aussi Pizza snobs and curious Pizza lovers. He’s even considering opening a second location.
But the rest of us need not feel our fave Pizza and our fave Pizza place are in any way second rate. To paraphrase Sally Allbright in When Harry Met Sally, “I want what I want the way I want it when I want it!” Me? High maintenance? That’s another topic for another day on another blog altogether…
Meanwhile, mangiare miei amici!
~ Maggie J.