Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pizza Expo March 2013: Overview

Hand made by Don Antonio Starita at the International Pizza Expo 2013, Las Vegas

Food Network Host Robert Irvine: Restaurant Impossible
The 29th Annual International Pizza Expo is THE trade show for the pizza industry which took place at the Las Vegas Convention Center on March 19-21, 2013. It's an area larger than five football fields where you can find information about all things pizza. It is the mecca where current pizza owners, managers, and operators can meet to network, gather more information and purchase a wide variety of products from gluten-free pizza flour to a new wood fire oven. It is the place to learn from industry experts  who come to share their business successes stories, to gain new knowledge such as social media marketing, and to acquire a new skill or recipe from well-renowned pizzaiolas (pizza makers).

Stefano Ferrara Wood-Fire Oven
The thousands of attendees included current restaurant owners, managers, operators as well as first time attendees who are thinking of opening a pizzeria.   Although the flour, tomatoes, cheese distributors and brokers took much of the floor space, they shared the center stage with the equipment vendors. It is also a mecca of all things shiny: ovens, mixers, grinders, slicers, spatulas, peels and pans.

So how did I manage to get myself into the Pizza Expo?  I fall under the category of "first time attendees" who LOVE to make pizza and wonder if the possibility of opening a pizzeria is a viable option in the near future. I've always been passionate about food and cooking / baking, but I've only kept my interest as a hobby. Although the industry looks glamorous and exciting, I know full well there's a lot of hard work, long hours, and family sacrifices involved. After acquiring a wood fire oven last year and making artisan breads and pizza, I wondered about the possibilities of the pizza industry. What better way to get the maximum information from working professionals under one roof than to attend THE Pizza Expo!

Pizza Expo Workshop
Perusing through their exhaustive website, the two-day workshops offered by the Guiness Book of World Record Holder, Eleven-Time World Pizza Champion and owner / pizza master / instructor of Tony's Napoletana Pizza, Tony Gemignani caught my attention.  We had just been to San Francisco in February for MacWorld 2013, and found his North Beach restaurant that bakes nine different styles of pizza including gluten-free, using seven different types of ovens. Sadly, I had just missed the Home Chef course that is offered once every three months at Tony's International School of Pizza. Therefore, the well-priced two-day workshop given by the man himself was impressive.

However, it wasn't until after meeting with Scott Weiner, Pizza Today columnist and owner of the NYC Scott's Pizza Tour, that I realized the Pizza Expo would be a great opportunity to have many questions answered, and learn about the pizza industry. My supportive husband, Kevin, who's similar to me in the quest for more knowledge, was also very excited about going.  He thought that it would offer great exposure to working professionals and an opportunity to absorb all things pizza.

This year, keynote speakers included Chef Robert Irvine, the host of Food Network's primetime series Restaurant: Impossible, and Bill Jacobs, owner of Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, a Chicago pizzeria / brewpub, who was named the 2011 Independent Pizzeria of the Year by Pizza Today magazine.  Competitions such as the International Pizza Challenge and World Pizza Games are always crowd pleasers. The seminars and cooking demos also piqued my interest. Craft beer, power panels, and operator presentations were also among this year's attractions.

It's been several days after returning from our whirlwind trip to the Pizza Expo. Two words can describe how I felt for three days. Sensory Overload. I decided to attend the Pre-Conference Day on Monday, which focuses on first-time attendees and those who are new to the business.

Million-In-One Club
The most interesting session for me was the Million in One Club which was comprised of four very successful business owners who spoke openly about the experiences that led to their elite success.  Some of the astounding facts thrown out to the audience were: 43 billion dollars annually in business, 65,000 pizzerias in the US, and the average revenue for a pizzeria is $662,000. Holy stromboli!

Tony Gemignani: Respect the Craft
Tuesday, March 19th was the first day of Tony Gemignani's workshop which involved learning how to make several different styles of dough. He focused on explaining about starter and pre-ferments (poolish vs. biga), including the differences and properties they give the dough so that the pizza crust has texture and good flavor. Tony discussed the different flours used based on the style of pizza made. This is what makes his pizza concept successful and true. He uses flour that is indigenous to a region or country so, for example, a true Neapolitan pizza from Naples is made using flour milled in Naples. Portioning into dough balls, storing, and the staging process (the order in which ingredients are mixed) were also discussed during the two hour class.

Melissa Rickman impresses Tony G.
The following day, Tony demonstrated various dough handling techniques when making
Sicilian, New York and Neapolitan pizzas. He also discussed oven management with the different types of pizza. A couple of volunteers, including Larry Cariglio of Lorenzo's in Oberlin, Ohio and long-time member of the Pizza Making Forum helped him form and dress pizzas. Melissa Rickman of Wholly Stromboli in Ft. Lupton, Colorado, eagerly volunteered to help Tony and would later compete in the Pizza Competition. A surprise guest, Don Antonio Starita, was asked to demonstrate creating a Neapolitan pizza, and was given the "Lifetime Achievement Award". I'll be writing a detailed post of this wonderful tribute soon!

Don Antonio Starita is honored by Roberto Caporuscio

Elizabeth Falkner demonstrated her award-winning Neapolitan pizza, Finocchio Flower Power, that won first place in the Caputo World Pizza Championship in Naples in 2012. Energetic, talented and passionate about being a pizzaiola, she used to be a pastry chef and executive chef in San Francisco before moving to New York.  Elizabeth's  cooking talents can now be found at Krescendo in Brooklyn, NY.

Celebrity Iron Chef turns Pizzaiola

Afternoons were spent crawling  the thousands of square feet of vendors showcasing their products. As a first time attendee, I was intrigued by all the products, services, and equipment available in the pizza industry. Meeting members from the Pizza Making Forum was another reason to make this trip.  I have been a member of this forum since October 2012, which is comprised of pizza enthusiasts, pizza lovers and professionals whose main goal is to talk pizza. Many contributors to the forum are knowledgeable, talented and helpful. It was quite fun meeting folks who I've chatted with in the forum, connecting monikers with faces. 

Elizabeth Falkner's award-winning Finocchio Flower Power

Pizza Making Forum members
Making new friendships related to pizza was a bonus. It was also an opportunity to rekindle relationships I've made with folks whom I've met during pizza tours in NYC and Chicago. Seeing Roberto Caporuscio's (Keste) charming smile at the Caputo Flour booth was a delight.  Running into a suntanned Giuilio Adriani of Forcella on the Expo floor was a surprise since I had my first pizza class with him in Brooklyn. Stopping by the pizza competion, we bid a quick hello to Jonathan Goldsmith of Spacca Napoli who was judging the preliminary trials. I truly appreciate folks like these guys who are passionate about their craft and want to share their talents, passion and appreciation with others.

Spacca Napoli meets Forcella in Las Vegas

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