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Contest lets Chinese chefs grab the pizza-making spotlight

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-06-14 07:45:19

Contest lets Chinese chefs grab the pizza-making spotlight

Paulino Li (right) of Pizza View, and La Pizza's Xiao Ma (center) and Rick Song, get top marks from the Italian judges. [Photo by Nicola Longobardi/China Daily]

Rosario Scarpato is studying a small pizza with the focus of a building inspector. The analogy is apt.

The crust gets a professional poke from his fingertip. Then he gazes across the surface-is the consistency right?-before he signals an OK to slice the pie.

Until this lunchtime event in Beijing, the 8th Italian Cuisine World Summit Roadshow has been a showcase for Italian chefs, a Michelin-starred extravaganza in seven restaurants over six nights. Today, however, the chefs in the spotlight are Chinese, about a dozen young men and women who have honed their skills in some of the best Italian restaurants in Beijing and Tianjin. Over the next two hours, three of them will win a chance to compete for China at the Italian Pizza World Summit in Dubai later this year.

It's a warm day and the crowd of chefs in the kitchen means the air-conditioning struggles to keep the restaurant cool. The competing chefs are all smiles, however, sipping ice water, teasing each other good naturedly and getting some quiet coaching on the sidelines from the Italian chefs they work for.

Each competitor in turn grabs a sphere of dough, which was prepared the night before, and shapes it into a flat disc that their Eastern hands will convert to an authentic Western pizza pie.

"Chinese people have a deep love affair with Italian cuisine," says Scarpato, who was excited to bring the global chef's event to the Chinese mainland for the first time this year. "Food is very central to both cultures, so we understand each other very well in this context."

He's sitting outside the restaurant with his fellow judges, while inside the competing chefs each make a pizza in turn-grinning as their colleagues capture the moment with cellphone cameras. Event photographer Nicola Longobardi snaps a quick shot when a chef emerges from the open kitchen with a steaming pizza. Then each pie is carried outside by an event organizer, so the judges don't know who made it, and the evaluation begins.

Contest lets Chinese chefs grab the pizza-making spotlight

During a break, award-winning acrobatic pizza chef Vincenzo Tesauro puts on a show. [Photo by Nicola Longobardi/China Daily]

Master butcher Simone Fracassi from Tuscany speaks for the judges after the score sheets are tabulated.

"Chefs must pay more attention to the flour spread on the edges of the pizza," he says in booming Italian that's quickly translated into Chinese.

"Sometimes there was too much."

What else were the judges looking for? Mozarella on top that wasn't cooked too much, and the attention the competitors paid to the tomato sauce: "Was the balance of acid and sweetness right?"

The chef who ticked all the boxes was Paulino Li of Pizza View, an offshoot of Opera Bombana. He will be joined at the global competition in Dubai by La Pizza's Xiao Ma and Rick Song, the second- and third-place finishers respectively.

"It has been great to bring the chef's summit to Beijing," says Scarpato, who is already making plans to return in 2017. "We have been to Hong Kong in the past, but high-level Italian cuisine is already very well-known there, while in Beijing we have an opportunity to create new excitement."

The formal summit events concluded Sunday with a dinner by master guest chefs Vincenzo Guarino (Chianti) and Luciano Monosilio (Rome) and host chef Fabio Nompleggio at the Ritz-Carlton Financial Street. Monosilio will remain in Beijing through Wednesday night to offer a series of special menus.

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