Las Vegas gets extra crazy during the annual International Pizza Expo. Imagine thousands of pizzeria owners, operators, chefs, and assorted pizza nerds in one place at one time. The trade show floor is swamped with companies selling cheese, tomatoes, flour, ovens, spices, beverages, and even massage devices. There are seminars and workshops every day, parties every night.
Some come just to participate in competitions like the Largest Dough Stretch or the Fastest Box Folder, but one competition rises above all else: the International Pizza Challenge. It’s a culinary battle of good pizza vs bad pizza. Pizza makers enter into one or more categories for traditional, non-traditional, pan, and Italian. I usually judge a few rounds and am always surprised by what I see on the plate. Here are some of the more interesting entries in the non-traditional category at this year’s competition.
1. Fruit Salad
Is fruit on pizza obscene? Is salad on pizza obscene? Am I supposed to eat these citrus rinds? I don’t care, it was delicious.
2. Wave Your Flag
This was a competitor in the Best of the Best competition, the showdown between four pizzaioli using only a table of ingredients provided by the Expo. Contestants bring their own dough and this Italian pizza maker decided to bring three, each tinted with dye to produce an Italian flag “trecolore” crumb when sliced. Judges thought he was crazy but it worked and the pizza was excellent! Oh, and that’s just a shrimp on top.
Those are balsamic pearls. Liquids can be encased by gently dropping them into a gelatin bath. I’ve seen it with mozzarella di bufala on the Richard Blais show Blais Off, featuring a very handsome gentleman in a blue shirt.
4. Sesame Crust
I’ve seen sesame-coated crusts before but this one was just too beautiful not to share. The topping of the pizza is a simple arugula salad with prosciutto and parmigiano and it was as tasty as you’d expect. Hard to see in the photo, but the peel was branded with a description of the pizza. Classy!
5. Pork Rinds
You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced what this pizzaiolo called “porkolisciusness” in the form of fried pork skin (chicharron) on top of a delicious pizza with pickled red onion.
6. Peanut Butter Jalapeño
Apple, bacon crumbles, peanut butter (for adhesion) and jalapeño. We can argue all day about whether or not this is really a pizza, but I’m positive about one thing: it was super tasty.