Pizza competition finds the best pie maker in Canada

By Noella Ovid Pizza makers from all over Canada got together to test their pizza-making skills against each other at the Canadian Pizza Show on Monday, Oct. 19.

The much-anticipated Chef of the Year competitions amassed over 200 attendees at the International Centre in Mississauga.

Joe Leroux from Amadio’s Pizza in Mississauga was awarded the Canadian Pizza Chef of the Year title, along with $1,000 and a cover story in Canadian Pizza magazine.

Leroux made the winning pizza using fermented two-day-old hydration dough and a homemade garlic Parmigiano-Reggiano cream sauce. He topped the pizza with sliced rosemary potatoes, hickory smoked bacon, red onions, cheddar and mozzarella cheese.

This has guaranteed Leroux a spot to compete at the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas, along with runner-up Giuseppe Cortinovis of Trattoria in Vancouver.

The competition required contestants to bake any pizza in five minutes and present their pizza to a panel of judges. Each entrant was given a bake time and an additional 10 minutes of preparation time.

Contestant Mathan Rajaratnam of Pizzeria Libretto in Toronto said that he created his pizza to be “something personal. I really liked the ingredients – a bit of sweet and balsamic vinegar.”

Rajaratnam, who has been in the pizza industry for 20 years, made a thin-crust pizza using maple cured duck breast that had been cured for 30 days.

The Chef of the Year competition has been running for 10 years and has evolved from what used to be a written recipe submission. This is the second year the contest has been featured at the Canadian Pizza Show.

“It is very important to [the magazine],” said Laura Aiken, editor of Canadian Pizza. “It takes a lot of innovation and creativity to [reach] the next level.”

Three other competitions were added to the Canadian Pizza Show this year: Junior Chef of the Year, the Champion of Champions Challenge and the Great Pizza Box Fold-Off.

The winners for these competitions were Anthonio Rupolo, 18, of Gusto Pizzeria in Brampton; Carlo Raillo of Buco Pizzeria + Vino in Alberta and Breanna Gray of Gabriel Pizza in Ottawa.

Emily McKenzie, 16, who took part in the Junior Chef of the Year competition, said that although she does not see herself working in the pizza industry in the future, it was a good first-job experience.

McKenzie baked a Greek inspired grilled chicken pizza. She said,  “I thought the ingredients went really well together and complimented each other. I saw customers enjoy it at the store so I thought I’d give it a try here.”

The show also held informational sessions that gave pizza owners and employees knowledge on marketing hits and misses, service excellence, social networking, pizza profitability and healthy eating.

“I’m opening up a pizza joint in spring. Coming here helps you figure out how everything [works.] It’s nice to know who your competition is,” said Roland Ollivier an attendee.

There were also stores holding exhibitions at the show. Some of the exhibitors included Salamina, Toppers, Picard and Expresco.

“We want to show people the kind of meat they can use for pizza. [It is] very important for people to know the kinds of meat they eat,” said Jawdat Dervish, Salamina Foods representative.

“[We attended the show] hoping to meet pizza owners to share their experience in producing and product expanding,” said Cailin White, franchise development manager at Toppers.

Saputo Foodservice and Moretti Forni – Euro Milan Distributing sponsored the Chef of the Year competition as its diamond and gold sponsors.

“It was a crazy fun day for us,” said Colleen Cross, associate editor at Canadian Pizza.