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Food & Drink: Pizzaiolo places 6th in Vegas contest

Owner of Pizzeria La Sorrentina puts his skills to the test

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Pizzeria La Sorrentina took sixth place at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.
Pizzeria La Sorrentina took sixth place at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. Contributed photos Photo Gallery

On March 19, Vancouver’s own Daisuke Matsumoto (aka Chef Dice-K), owner of Pizzeria La Sorrentina, competed in the International Pizza Challenge at the Pizza Expo. To everyone’s surprise, he finished sixth in his contest.

Matsumoto competed in The Pizza Napoletana Division. The rules are very specific: chefs must use type 00 wheat flour, peeled San Marzano DOP tomatoes and/or fresh cherry tomatoes, marine salt and extra-virgin olive oil. The dough must be kneaded by hand or with a low-speed mixer. After rising, the dough must be formed by hand and may be no more than 3 mm thick. The pizza must be baked for 60-90 seconds in a 905-degree Fahrenheit pizza oven. There are three official types of pizza allowed. Matsumoto’s pie was a Pizza Napoletana Margherita with Fior di Latte Appennino (a cow’s milk mozzarella).

Why did Matsumoto put himself in the middle of this pizza-making Dante-esque inferno? Two things motivated him. One, he was egged on by other pizzaiolos via Instagram. Two, he was doubting his pizza-making skills. He explained, “I was confused. Every single word I heard from customers or critics, I was thinking, ‘Should I change?’ I could change the temperature lower, longer cook, more crispier.” So, he embarked on a pizza-making vision quest.

Pizzaiolo Matsumoto prepared by using the oven at Nonavo Pizza on Mondays when Nonavo is closed. He also worked on revising his dough recipe to make four to five dough balls for the competition, instead of the usual 70 to 100 dough balls he made for his food truck. Matsumoto’s wife, Amy Hernandez-Matsumoto, explained, “So, honestly, it was like the last time he practiced that he got it right. So, it’s just one time that he got it right.”  After a month of making the same Pizza Napoletana Margherita at Nonavo, the couple headed to Las Vegas for the Pizza Expo.

Competitors are supposed to bring their own ingredients to the competition. Vendors at the Expo told Matsumoto that they would bring the ingredients for him so he wouldn’t have to travel with them. There were problems getting the ingredients to his work site. Matsumoto formed the dough 24 hours before the competition and then the couple had to carry the dough around like a newborn baby making sure it didn’t get too hot in the Las Vegas sun. On the day of the event, equipment and utensils were missing from Matsumoto’s space and from the spaces of his competitors. It was stressful and chaotic.

Matsumoto had 15 minutes on the stage, in front of 100 spectators, to prepare his pizza and bake it. He told me, “My hands were sweating and when I touched the flour it got wet. I was freaking out. I didn’t know where to look because everybody was watching me with no smile and they’re all talking in Italian. I don’t know what they’re saying, but I know they are talking about me. It’s intense. ‘He’s a stranger; he’s Asian; what is he going to make?’ ”

In addition, every step of this process is closely watched by the judges. The pizza came out in 90 seconds — just in time — and the crust had a remarkable airiness and a structure similar to a cornetto pastry.

Later that day, the scores were posted. Matsumoto and Amy Hernandez-Matsumoto were shocked and amazed that he placed sixth in a field of 30 exceptional pizzaiolos. Matsumoto immediately called Joey Chmiko of Nonavo Pizza to share the good news. His only regret is that he didn’t get a close-up photo of his winning pie.

“I still want one picture. I don’t remember a lot, but that pizza came out good.”

The couple then went off to Naples to spend some time with the maestros of pizza. They planned to visit about 14 different pizzerias to sample some Pizza Napoletana and to get ideas for a brick-and-mortar restaurant that they hope to open sometime in the future. They were due back at their wood fired pizza truck outside Brothers Cascadia Brewing on April 12.


Rachel Pinsky can be emailed at couveeats@gmail.com. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @couveeats.

Information

Pizzeria La Sorrentina, 9811 N.E. 15th Ave., Vancouver, 360-980-1651, LaSorrentinaVW.com

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