By Charlie Pogacar
Niles Peacock, owner of Niles Peacock Kitchen & Bar in Edmonds, Washington, was on a mission to get coffee. He strode across the Pizza Tomorrow Summit showroom floor, immaculately dressed in jeans, leopard-print shoes and thick-framed black glasses with skulls on the sides.
As he chatted, one wouldn’t have known that, less than 24 hours prior, Peacock was crowned the winner of the Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup, hosted by the U.S. Pizza Team (USPT) at the second annual trade show still going on today in Orlando.
“When I come to competitions like this, even if I don’t win, I still feel like I’ve won,” Peacock said. “And you know, I can only do this because of the people working at my kitchen and bar, who are allowing me to do this. I really feel like I win for them. When I come back, I tell them thank you—thank you for letting me go, and now we have something to show for it.”
To understand Peacock’s unlikely rise to the top of the pizza-making game, you have to know that he is, you could say, an accidental award-winning pizzaiolo. A bartender by trade, Peacock was first an award-winning craft cocktail artist. He wanted to open a bar in the Seattle area but found out he’d have to serve food in order to do so.
Peacock refused to have a lower standard for his food than for his cocktails. When friends and family members suggested he serve pizza, though he didn’t know a thing about it, he dove in headfirst. He bought an oven from Auntie Anne’s—yes, that Auntie Anne’s, the pretzel company—and a copy of Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast, by Ken Forking.
He began experimenting. He wanted to have the best dough possible, so he started reaching out to connections to see if anybody knew a qualified dough coach. He learned that one of the leaders in the field was a short ferry ride away from where he was setting up shop for his new restaurant: Will Grant, a master pizzaiolo and the owner of Sourdough Willy’s in Kingston, Washington, and That’s A Some Pizza in Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Noting how seriously Peacock took his craft, Grant eventually gifted him with a 128-year-old sourdough starter that Peacock still uses to this day. In fact, it’s now a championship-holding sourdough crust.
It was Grant, actually, who encouraged Peacock to start competing in events like the Galbani Professionale Pizza Cup.
“I was like, ‘I think that’s the opposite of what I should do, I don’t have my 10,000 hours in yet,’” Peacock said. “And he told me that you don’t get good at making pizza for a long time—there are plenty of people who make bad pizza for generations. Making good pizza makes you good at making pizza.”
Peacock’s first competition took place in Las Vegas. When he arrived, he walked to the registration table and noticed the competitors, all clad in their chef coats with equipment that looked like it had come fresh off a cooking show’s set—likely because it had. Peacock rolled in with an Igloo cooler on wheels that was duct-taped together.
“But I went and I cooked and turned in my pizza, and then I hung out with pizza people that night, and I thought my pizza was beautiful, but I thought everyone else’s pizza was even more beautiful,” Peacock said. The judges disagreed: Peacock’s pizza was the most beautiful of all, they decided, and he had won his first pizza-making title. It wasn’t even four years earlier that his pizza-making journey had started.
It was more of the same at the Pizza Tomorrow Summit in Orlando this week. Peacock began squaring off against other renowned pizzaiolos, and the judges kept picking Peacock’s pizza, which he describes as “artisan New York-style, for lack of a better term.”
Being announced as the champion evoked a flood of emotions for Peacock. Thanks to the title sponsor, Galbani Professionale, Peacock had just won a trip to compete in the 2024 World Pizza Championship in Parma, Italy in April.
You could say Peacock celebrated in style: He went back to his hotel room and was asleep by 7 p.m.
“I was absolutely exhausted,” Peacock said.
Hence the coffee.
Charlie Pogacar is PMQ’s senior editor.