Edler slaps way to gold at World Pizza Championships

March 27, 2005

Everyone knows records are made to be broken, but can't a guy hold onto his for more than 10 minutes?

Not likely, if Brian Edler is competing against him.

Just minutes after Michael Shepherd shattered the event record for the fastest pizza maker contest at the World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore, Italy, March 14-16, Edler, Shepherd's longtime friend and training partner, took the stage.

And even before Edler could put his power to the flour, Shepherd knew his time at the top was tenuous.

"I knew he was going to burst my bubble," said Shepherd, owner of Michael Angelo's Pizza in Kenton, Ohio. The two men held four practice competitions in the past several weeks in order to push each other to peak performance before jetting to Italy. "After I finished, all I did was stand there and wait and think, 'Is Brian going yet? When's he going to go?'"

Despite slapping out and screening five dough balls in 45 seconds, Edler slashed a full eight seconds off Shepherd's time — a full second faster, in fact, than the 38 seconds he predicted beforehand.

"Part of why we were so fast is that the dough was a lot warmer than it has ever been," said Edler, who used a laser thermometer to determine the dough in Italy was near 60 F, some 20 degrees warmer than usual. "We were expecting the dough to be hard like it had been in the past, and that's what we practiced for. But this time it was so loose that it caused me to mess up the first (skin). I just adjusted as quickly as I could."

Edler is also the current world record holder for the five-skin-slap. During the New York Restaurant Show in 2003, he posted a scorching time of 20.37 seconds, which secured a spot on the U.S. Pizza Team for the three-store Domino's Pizza franchisee from Findlay, Ohio.

Edler's gold

What's Important

U.S competitors at Italy's World Pizza Championships took home a record four medals.

U.S. Pizza Team member, Brian Edler, captured a gold medal in the fastest pizza maker contest. To get it, he slapped and screened five dough balls in 37 seconds, an event record.

The World Pizza Champions team, all of whom are American pizza makers, took the silver in the team acrobatic competition.

medal was one of four medals in all captured by pizza makers from the United States. Shepherd took the silver behind Edler, and Tony Gemignani (Pyzano's Pizzeria in Castro Valley, Calif.) took the bronze in the individual acrobatic competition. The World Pizza Champions team (made up of five American pizza makers, including Gemignani and Shepherd) took the silver in the team acrobatic competition.

"There's no question people know who we are now and that we can compete at the highest level," said Gemignani, a five-time world champion in the individual acrobatic competition. "Brian and Michael especially kicked ass."

In his first visit to the world championships, Tim Duffey, manager of a DeFelice Brothers Pizza restaurant in St. Clairsville, Ohio, won a certificate for Best Pizza in North America. Duffey earned a spot on the U.S. Pizza Team by winning the best traditional pizza category during the Pizza Pizzazz contest, held in conjunction with the North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show in Columbus, Ohio, in February.

Duffey's pizza was topped with mozzarella and provolone cheeses, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and onions. Asked whether he considered changing the recipe to better suit the tastes of Europeans judging the contest, Duffey said no.

"I figured that if it worked once, it'll work again," he said, adding that the winning pies were on super-thin crusts and minimally topped. "I know how to do what I do, and I'm pleased with that. And just getting to go to Italy was exciting and gratifying."

Though a late change in the rules for the largest dough stretch competition hurt Shepherd's chance at defending his 2004 world championship, he didn't blame it for the loss.

"Last year the rule was 5 minutes to do whatever you want to stretch it," he said. The old rule, which was debatably

Five skins and a cloud of dust: Brian Edler slapped his way to first place and an event record at the World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore, Italy.
                     Photo courtesy of PMQ Magazine

loose to begin with, Shepherd said, allowed competitors to spend more time using the floor to stretch their dough. "This year you still got 5 minutes, but you were allowed only 10 seconds on the floor. ... The point of the change was to see who's the best dough handler, not the best technical guy. I liked that rule, but it worked against me."

Controversy and choreography

Veteran contestants say the world championships are always spiced with controversy, and this year's event lived up to expectatations.

In both the team and individual acrobatic competitions, heated disputes broke out over alleged scoring biases among some of the judges. In one tussle that continued outside the competition arena, a rock was thrown through a window by an angry contestant, who was later arrested.

Sparks again flew when judges and fans from France and England accused an Italian judge of giving the World Pizza Champions team a 7 for its acrobatic routine, when others gave them 9s and 10s. Following the team's performance, Shepherd said he noticed the judges were still talking, but wasn't sure what about. Later in the evening, a French judge told the team he believed the Italian judge's score was unfair and that they should have won the gold.

Nevertheless, the team was still pleased with its performance.

"When you consider that one year we finished last, and then the next year we finished second from last, it's really great to get second place," Shepherd said.

Siler Chapman, another World Pizza Champions team member, said he expected the team would finish third.

"Personally, I didn't think we would do as well as we did because we'd not practiced as much as we wanted," said Chapman, owner of Pizza Works in Fort Mill, S.C. "But when I looked at the tape, I thought everybody had the perfect routine. Everybody was on point."

A few dozen Italians agreed with that assessment, according to Shepherd. Following its acrobatic performance, the team headed to a restaurant near the arena to prepare dough for the next day's contests. When they walked inside the restaurant, they got a standing ovation from about 40 people.

"They were actually telling us, 'You guys were great, you were wonderful and you should have won,'" said Shepherd. "The amount of respect we got from the Italians this time was unbelievable. We built a ton of credibility."

Gemignani wound up buying a round of drinks for the house.

"Man, that cost me," he said. "But everybody there was having fun. ... This was a good year."

Topics: Dough , NAPICS

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