Recently I was given a tremendous honor. After a fair amount of begging and pleading (on my part) All Over Albany asked if I would be a judge for their 2009 Tournament of Pizza.
All kidding aside, I take this responsibility very seriously.
A few days ago, AOA posted an article about the judges of this years TOP. Regrettably, there was an email snafu and I did not get to submit my pizza philosophy to the AOA editors.
I would like to take a moment and share my thoughts on the matter now.
There are so many different styles of pizza. Each really has to be evaluated on its own terms. Every style has its rabid fan base that insists theirs is the true expression of the form, and all others are merely imposters.
And it’s a difficult question of how one would compare pizza across styles.
New York thin crust v. Chicago deep dish v. Old Forge v. New Haven coal-fired etc.
I believe the answer has to consider which is the best expression of its form, but ultimately be based on which is the tastiest.
My heart belongs to thin crust New York style pizza. And I wrote a manifesto on the form earlier this year. But I cannot ding a Chicago pizza for having too much cheese or Old Forge pizza for having sweet sauce or a New Haven pizza for having a thicker crust. It would make no sense.
Still, all pizza shares three common elements: Crust, cheese and sauce. Regardless of style those three can be evaluated on flavor, texture and overall quality. And in any great pizza, these three components will work together to form something incredible.
For the Tournament of Pizza, I always try to remember that the four pies competing within a city are all beloved by someone. Someone swears that this is among the best pizza they have had. Certainly taste is subjective. And in the end only one pizzeria can come out on top.
But it is important for me to try to find in that pie what makes it great, even if I may not like it as much as the others. I find it so important that after one grueling evening of judging, I went out for an additional slice of pizza just to get a better handle on the pizzeria’s unusual style.
Sometimes I am not so smart. That night I made it all the way up to #6 on my feeling full scale. But it was all in the name of science.
There is no perfect system. And I would not want to live in a world where everyone liked the exact same kind of pizza.
Plus in the end, pizza is a local food. It’s a neighborhood food. Regardless of how great the pizza place is across town, the one where you can walk in and feel the most at home may always somehow taste better. And some beer and good company don’t hurt either.
If you are still curious to see how some of this philosophy plays out in practice, you can read dozens of pizza reviews I have written here. Mostly these are for places in New York and California. But it should give you a better sense of what I think is good.
Given how I spent no small part of the past few months complaining about some local food critics, I suppose turnabout is fair play. Luckily I can take it as well as I can dish it out. But hopefully I will earn your trust, and it won’t have to go there. We’ll just have to wait and see.