At the North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show this last weekend, I partook in the annual ritual of competing with some of the best pizza makers in the Midwest. In order to clear the air, let me just say that I took 40th spot in the Gourmet category. Yes, that’s FOUR-ZERO. My pizza choice was the tremendously popular Hot Tuna pie at Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. Evidently it wasn’t tremendously popular with the judges in Columbus.
Joe Carlucci with his winning pizza.
I hadn’t seen Joe since last year at the World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore, Italy. It was our final night at the five-star Hotel Valentini, and I had just lay down in my bed after an exciting yet rowdy party with my team, The World Pizza Champions. Brits, Irish and Aussies had joined in the festivities (yes, a very bad combination for any club owner).
Hearing a noise, I opened my door to see what the commotion was out in the hallway. My foggy eyes saw Joe gleefully jumping up and down, playing rowdy leapfrog down the hallway with the members of the Australian pizza team. They were adept in their hyper-hops along the padded carpet, with nary a miss. I asked if they could pick another hallway. Joe’s last word to me was an endearing, “Ribbitt.”
Joe making his Pizza Teglia at the World Pizza Championships in Italy, 2008.
Joe is to pizza what Willie Mays is to baseball. He’s often overlooked because of bigger, louder, and more aggressive celebrity chefs, pundits and artisan bread cretins shoving their way into the limelight. Joe still has the title from the Guinness Book of World Records for the Highest Pizza Dough Toss, when he threw a perfect round pizza dough 21.5 feet in the air. His competitive nature has propelled him to win numerous culinary as well as acrobatic awards, which is why he is one of the greatest pizza consultants around. But despite all the awards and accolaides, Joe still remains one of the kindest and best friends any pizza guy could have.
Monday, I was in a loser funk that floated around in my head like Badluck Schlep-rock after a failed attempt at pizza victory on Sunday. While standing around with my “L” tatoo newly imprinted on my forehead, Joe came by carrying 4 pans in large plastic bags. The dough in these pans was bloated to the point of looking like “The Blob” of Steve McQueen fame, only these blobs were white.)
“Holy Moly, Joe.” I sniffed the dough, smelling the familiar smell of long-fermentation similar to a mellow Scotch. “How long have you had this stuff fermenting?”
He looked around to see if anyone was listening, “Seven days with a pre-ferment. Wanna see me par-cook this stuff?”
I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Joe was using two specialized pans from the best custom panmaker in the nation, Lloyd Pans. These pans were seasoned to perfection and would transfer enough heat to turn any dough into a crisp golden brown.
“Looks good,” he continued. “Huh? Huh? Looks great John, huh?
“Yeah,” I said, pushing the now-crisp outside, feeling a great bounce back from the bread-like interior that makes a great Pizza Teglia. (This is a pan pizza process that we undergo at the World Pizza Championships in Italy.)
“You’d tell me if it wasn’t, huh? Huh, John? You would, right? Right?” Joe was rambling, trying to elicit an honest response from me by nagging. Little did he know, I’ve been married for too long to fall for that.
I smiled at the funny way in which this guy, who has won so many competitions, was still modestly demanding a second opinion. He was doing the same thing I do when reaching the finals: get a response from a friend. After all, every opinion from a team member is a good opinion.
As Joe took his pizza to the table to top it with his ingredients, I asked him about his toppings. “Some sausage, tomatoes and onions and mozzarella.” he said flippantly. I knew this response well. Keep it simple, tell the truth, but not all the truth. Accidently leave the secrets out. For years Joe and I have had conversations like the following:
“Well Joe, that looks like Chorizo sausage,” I said, trying to sound insulted.
“Oh, yeah buddy, sorry. Sausage with paprika…that’s chorizo.”
“Those look like carmelized onions, Joe.”
“Oh yeah. Sorry John, it was a long night.”
“Did you oven-dry those tomatoes, Joe?”
“Ah, maybe…Oh, yes, it think they ended up in the oven. Yes.”
“What’s in that sauce?”
“Tomatoes…and stuff.” he said with finality and smiled. I threw my head back and laughed. Now that’s a competitor, I thought.
Here is a video of Joe’s final moments before submitting his pizza at the show.
And after the final bake, he made another pizza for the finals competition.
After congratulating Joe, I asked him for his recipe. He hasn’t responded. I don’t blame him, as I’m going up against him in Italy and Las Vegas soon. Contact him at Famous Joes and bug him, but don’t get your hopes up.
Congratulations to Joe. Semper Pie!