Pizza Expo 2013

I recently returned from my whirlwind tour of Las Vegas and the Pizza Expo 2013. I got in on Monday around 10:30pm, so unfortunately I was too tired to sample any of Las Vegas many restaurants. I did hear through the grapevine that the restaurant D.O.C.G. at the Cosmopolitan. It’s the brainchild of Scott Conant, known for his delicious homemade pasta. D.O.C.G stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (the highest level of Italian wine origin). From what I hear the pizzas are spot on, accompanied by a nice selection of quality proteins: Lardo wrapped prawns anyone? Or how does a Berkshire pork chop sound? Now I am hungry!

The show itself is small enough to walk in a day but still large enough to bring in larger companies. The show is not a hot bed of innovation per se, but is a showcase of quality ingredients such as fresh mozzarella, natural cured meat products, and high-end antipasti components.

One of my favorite food finds from the show is a product called Sweety Drops. They are a tiny teardrop shaped pepper that is a cross between the Peppadew and an undisclosed South American pepper variety. They are grown for exclusively for Atalanta by a farmer in the Peruvian Amazon. This product is smack dab in the middle of the hottest food trend in a while. The peppers pack a flavor punch, and costing out at a penny per pepper they are a great value. Look for them in a store near you!

Another one of my favorite foods seen at the show sounds odd but is actually another super hot trend….popcorn. Not it’s not popcorn but a caramel corn frozen yogurt by Jelly Belly. It’s a sweet and salty popcorn flavor with a toffee finish, and it was one of the more interesting flavors I had all day. While I do not care for Jelly Belly’s buttered popcorn jelly bellies, I loved this flavor, which is ahead of its time. Other flavors are Strawberry Jam, Very Cherry, Toasted Marshmallow, Crushed Pineapple and Chocolate Pudding. The company also has low fat and indulgent ice creams in its line of products.

The majority of the innovation that I saw at the show came in the form of equipment and hard goods.

For example, this interesting oven by Unitherm, called the Unitherm Spiral Oven, has just made its way to the U.S. market in the past couple months.

The nice thing about this line of ovens is that they come in a large range of sizes. Many times, the manufacturer, who is trying to grow and migrate from batch processing to continuous processing methods, does not have an option. Unitherm has done a nice job of addressing the needs of these budding businesses. They also offer consistent quality and faster throughput than batch ovens.

Of course, pizza ovens reign as the king of equipment at the show. And in this category there were a couple of companies that are marketing the revolving pizza oven. While they may have been around for a while, I thought some of you might not be familiar with them, so I included a video from the J&G Mills booth showing how they work:

Ironically, I had a strangely serendipitous moment at the show. I was walking the aisles and came across a booth that was showcasing beautiful Italian glass ovens. For some reason I felt as if I had seen the display model before, and on a hunch, pulled up the picture of the oven from the Il Cane Rosso blog on December 5,2012 .

I approached the booth and asked the gentleman working the pizza station if the picture was one of his ovens (meaning: Did his company manufacture the oven for the restaurant?). On further elaboration, I came to find that the gentleman was none other than Dino Santonicola, the Master Pizzaiolo at Il Cane Rosso. Oh, the irony: it was really his oven!

In the hard goods category, there were 2 products that stood out as innovative. The first the Gluten Free Pizza Bag. For the manufacturer, this means that the pre-made pizza can be protected from the box to the oven then on to the table. The product handles heat up to 400F, but from Gerard Raccioppi says, it can be modified to handle the high temperatures found in commercial impinger ovens. You see these already on the recent launch of Conte’s GF Pizza bake in the bag, which debuted at the Winter Fancy Food Show, as well as a commercial application used by Chuck E Cheese. This product is also produced by Conte’s Pasta.

The other item in this category is a pizza liner that claims to be the solution to soggy pizza crust. Using Perfect CrustTM EVC technology the product sheet states that the pizza is Elevated (so that oils drain away), Ventilated (for a crispier crust), and Circulated (stored heat keeps the pizza 12-15F warmer). The product also has handles that allow for you to remove the entire pizza at once.

At the end of my walk of the show I was able to sit through a presentation by Tony Gemignani regarding how to make the perfect Napoletana pizza. I was lucky to sit in when they honored Antonio Starita of Pizzeria Starite die Matteri. Watching him make a pie, Tony G. commented that Mr. Starita has the softest hands in the business. I have to agree, he caressed the dough into compliance, commenting that too much dough action toughens it. I was lucky enough to try a piece of his pie, and it was better than I could imagine.

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