Here’s how to score an award-winning pie
Pizza Expo season is upon us once again, and that means my inbox will soon be filled with confused e-mails from pizza makers wondering why they didn’t take home the big prize at the International Pizza Challenge. I’ve been judging culinary pizza competitions since 2006 and completely understand participants’ frustration. Who are these mysterious judges behind the curtain? What are they looking for in a prize-winning pie? Are they allergic to mushrooms? Rather than make you guess how the system works, I’ll just tell you how we score the way we do.
- Appearance. Before tasting your pizza, judges are presented with the entire uncut pie so we can evaluate bake and appearance. Pizzas start to look the same after a couple rounds, so a great looking pie will pull us out of a trance and get us amped to eat your slice.
- Layout. It’s important that your pizza conveys its message within the first few bites. Our slices are tiny and we never finish the entire thing, so keep that in mind when you design your entry. Large and/or spread out toppings usually don’t perform well on our fun size slices.
- We get pizza fatigue. Even if we’re taking small bites, we’re still eating a lot of pizza. I’ve experienced situations where several competitors use the same toppings and that is a one-way ticket to Boringtown, USA. Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines; do something striking that will jump out among an infinite sea of pepperoni and sausage.
- Follow the rules. That being said, it’s important to operate within the guidelines of your division. If you’re limited to two toppings, don’t try to sneak in a third one. We’ve definitely spent time debating over whether a splash of truffle oil is a topping or a garnish, so we’re on the prowl for pizzas that don’t play by the rules.
- We look for flaws. Taste is subjective, so we look for technical flaws to help us widen the scores among entries. An uneven bake, excess flour buildup, or raw dough can mean the difference between a winner and a loser. You may have the best recipe in the room, but we’re judging your technique on a single pizza and you have one chance to nail it.
- Scoring. Judgment happens in two parts. First we give points for bake and presentation (worth 35 percent of your score) before the pie gets sliced. Big points go to pizzas that look delicious with bakes that are correct for their respective styles. Once cut, we rate your crust, toppings (includes cheese, sauce and additional toppings) and overall taste. That’s worth 65 percent of your total score.
We know you’re baking in an odd location with an unfamiliar oven, using dough you made a thousand miles away or in your hotel shower. You make hundreds of pizzas every day at your pizzeria but Pizza Expo gives you only one chance to get it right. It’s an incredibly difficult competition but there’s always a pizza that shines above the rest. Think about how we evaluate the entries and you’ll be one giant leap closer to the winning pie.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.