Michael LaMarca knows how to get kids to eat their spinach—just put it on a pizza. His Popeye Pizza tastes so good, it sailed to first place in the culinary category of the U.S. Pizza Team’s National Pizza Trials, held earlier this winter at Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. The prizewinning pie also earned LaMarca, owner of Master Pizza (masterpizza.com) in Cleveland, a spot on the U.S. Pizza Team and a free trip to compete with the team in the World Pizza Championship this spring in Parma, Italy.
“The experience was amazing,” LaMarca says. “It was such an honor to win…against such amazing competitors. Anyone could have been the winner—that’s how good the competition was.”
Culinary winners at the recent U.S. Pizza Team Trials include (from left) Dave Sommers of Mad Mushroom, 2nd place; Michael LaMarca of Master Pizza, 1st place; and Ali Haider of 786 Degrees, 3rd place.
Brian Scott of Community Pie tops off a pizza in the culinary competition.
LaMarca made his winning entry, the Popeye, with spinach, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic butter sauce, balsamic glaze and a blend of four cheeses. Second place in the culinary category went to Dave Sommers, owner of Mad Mushroom (madmushroom.com) in West Lafayette, Indiana. Sommers’ pizza featured a creamy Gorgonzola sauce topped with asparagus and seared beef filet, finished with a merlot sauce drizzle. Third place went to Ali Haider of 786 Degrees Wood Fired Pizza Company (786degrees.com) in Los Angeles. Haider baked a Neapolitan-style pizza that fused Indian herbs and spices, tikka masala tandoori chicken, mango chutney, mozzarella, sweet peppers, fresh cilantro and Himalayan sea salt.
In the acrobatics competition, meanwhile, Dave Sommers took home first-place prizes for Fastest Box Folding (25 seconds) and Fastest Pizza Making (37 seconds). LaMarca placed second in Fastest Box Folding (30 seconds), and Stan Miller, owner of World Famous Piezons Pizza in Fulton, Mississippi, captured third place (32 seconds). Mad Mushroom’s Rick Wheeler won second place in Fastest Pizza Making (43 seconds), while Miller took third place (62 seconds).
Two competitors tied for first place in the Largest Dough Stretch. Dylan Morris of Allen’s Stone Baked Pizzeria (allenspizzeria.net), located in Warner Robins, Georgia, and Brian Scott of Chattanooga’s Community Pie (communitypie.com) both recorded stretches of 31.375”. After a stretch-off, Morris took top honors. Third place went to Wheeler, with 31.125”.
LaMarca says he’s gearing up to compete next on the international stage in Parma. “I have already begun playing around with the pizza I won with in Tennessee and scaling it down to fit some of the criteria that the judges use in the World Pizza Championship,” he says. “I’m also researching the ingredients I used in Tennessee and learning how they are typically prepared by Italian chefs. Hopefully, I can find a nice balance of the two and come out with a pizza the judges will find extraordinary!”
Frank Baird (left) brought several members of his Franco’s Pizza team—including Veronica Obenour and Ross Croucher—to take part in the competition.
The U.S. Pizza Team consists of expert pizza makers and dough spinning acrobatic performers from pizza restaurants across the United States. Team member Jamie Culliton won second place in Individual Freestyle Acrobatics at the 2014 World Pizza Championship, and the squad took first place in the Team Acrobatics competition at the same event in 2011. PMQ Pizza Magazine, the pizza restaurant industry’s leading trade magazine, created the U.S. Pizza Team in 2000.
The team is sponsored by Grain Craft, California Milk Advisory Board, Gordon Food Service, LaNova, Paradise Tomato Kitchens, Bag Solutions, Fontanini Meats, Lillsun, Marsal and Sons, Univex, PizzaInsurance.com and Presto Foods.