For the past three years, the crew from Caliente Pizza & Draft House have made the trek out to Las Vegas for the International Pizza Expo. And each year, they’ve represented Pittsburgh’s pizza scene well. Really, really well.
Like, ‘best in the world’ well. Literally.
In 2016, Caliente Regional Chef Eric Von Hansen earned the honor of Best Pan Pizza in the World with the Quack Attack, a pizza containing pan-seared duck breast, roasted garlic butter, and wild mushroom ragu, topped with a mix of fontinella and parmesan reggiano cheese, baby arugula, tear drop tomatoes and truffle garlic oil.
Last week, after falling just short in the 2017 competition with a second place finish, Von Hansen reclaimed the honors of Best Pizza in the World in the Non-Traditional division. His winning entry is known as the Wagyu Beef Truffle Fromage (pictured right). This fine-dining inspired pizza featured black truffles, roasted shallots, fingerling potato hash, white cheddar, a simple syrup made with bing cherries marinated in vanilla beans and bourbon, and $88 per pound brown Wagyu beef.
“I wanted a little redemption,” Von Hansen proclaimed. “Deep down inside, I knew I could win it. That hunger just grew and I wanted to prove it to myself that I could do it.”
There are no limitations on ingredients in the Non-Traditional division, giving Von Hansen artistic and culinary freedom to build a pie that stemmed from his experiences working in fine dining. According to the chef, the ingredients in his creation showcase everything you could ever want in a well-presented gourmet dish and he was proud to bring them to life on a pizza.
Von Hansen’s victory helps shine a much-needed spotlight on Pittsburgh’s pizza scene, a city unfortunately overlooked when “great pizza towns” are discussed.
“People should take notice of what Pittsburgh is doing,” Von Hansen said. “[The city] doesn’t really get a lot of respect when it comes to making pizza. You hear New York, New Jersey, Chicago…but Pittsburgh doesn’t fall on the spectrum for pizza. So when I go up there, I’m representing the city, not just myself.”
Caliente owner Nick Bogacz echoed Von Hansen’s sentiments. He and his wife Angie recently opened their 4th location in Aspinwall and say the honors are proof that locally-sourced ingredients and daily made-from-scratch dough have helped put them on the map.
“I am so proud of our team for winning a world championship three years in a row,” Bogacz said. “It feels great bringing it back to the City of Champions.”
Another Caliente chef, Matt Hickey, beat out 30 international competitors to claim the World Pizza Games Gold Medal for ‘Largest Dough Stretch’ in 2017. He placed in the Top 10 this year. Additionally, Caliente Chef Nick Fink finished 4th in the Pan Division at last week’s extravaganza.
Von Hansen was also joined by Caliente General Manager Oz Turcan, who placed 2nd in a field of 65 competitors in the Traditional Pizza division. Originally from Turkey, “Ozzie” baked a pizza as an homage to his country that featured ricotta cheese made from a 76-year-old Turkish family recipe.
“It was a great experience for me,” Turcan said. “It was very tough competition and felt great to finish so high.”
The International Pizza Expo just wrapped up its 33rd year and represents the largest pizza-making competition in the United States. It includes bake-offs before judges in five divisions – Traditional, Non-Traditional, Pan, Pizza Napoletana, and Gluten-Free – and the winners of each division qualify for Pizza Maker of the Year, essentially the “best in show” award. Pizzas are judged by crust, toppings, overall taste, bake, visual appearance, and creativity. The Expo is also home to the World Pizza Games, which is a skills competition in five divisions as well.
Since its inception in 1985, the Expo has grown to welcome more than 7,400 attendees representing nearly 520 companies from around the world. It features a business-to-business trade show that puts owners and managers of independent and chain pizza restaurants in touch with manufacturers and service providers to the industry. Approximately 90 keynote addresses, seminars, panel discussions, and pizzeria menu demonstrations take place during the event. You can learn more at www.pizzaexpo.com.
Caliente Pizza & Draft House is Pittsburgh’s premier spot for award-winning pizza and wings. They are a proud supporter of the craft beer revolution in Pittsburgh and feature local and rare beers from around the world alike. Caliente prides itself on using fresh and locally-sourced ingredients “Fresh From Pittsburgh’s Little Italy.” Their sauce and pizza dough is prepared daily from scratch and all meats and vegetables are hand-sliced. To discover their full menu, weekly events, and draft lists at all four of their locations in Bloomfield, Hampton Township, Mount Lebanon, and recently-opened Aspinwall, visit www.pizzadrafthouse.com.