World’s best pizza: Plain and simple trumps all

What is the best pizza in the world?

If you order the plain pizza at Pinocchio Pizza in Wilton Center, and ask them to make it well-done, you will be close.

That’s essentially the pizza Pinocchio owner Bruno di Fabio presented last month to a panel of judges at the 2012 Mondial de la Pizza in Paris, where he was declared Winner of the Best Pizza.

Mr. di Fabio beat out 400 competitors from all over the world in the world championships of pizza making, held Nov. 4-5 at Euro Disney.

“There were teams from Brazil, Japan and China, all the European countries as well as the U.S. and Canada,” Mr. di Fabio said.

No stranger to the winner’s podium, Mr. di Fabio has won world titles for fastest pizza making and largest pizza. He’s also won best pizza in regional and American competitions.

In Paris Mr. di Fabio was awarded the Trophée Nonno Ciccillo, which is a tribute to the most famous pizzaiolos, according to the Mondial de la Pizza website. This is a Margherita pizza competition, celebrating the simplest of pizza recipes, but that does not mean it is the easiest to achieve.

“This is by far the biggest I’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s nearly impossible to win overseas because the judges are European. If you don’t speak the language they tune you out.”

At this competition there were four judges, two Italian and two French.

A first-generation American who grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., Mr. di Fabio speaks Italian, but with, he is sure, a thick American accent.

“I was able to bring a translator with me,” he said. “I wanted to tell the judges what is important to pizza makers overall.

“I wanted to describe how much effort I put into making the dough. The dough is your canvas.”

For Mr. di Fabio his canvas is a type of dough known as a biga dough.

“It’s an intricate way of making dough,” he said, that involves two phases. “First is an 18-hour room-temperature rise. Second is a three- to four-day cold rise.”

The result, he said, is a very light and flavorful crust. “The cell structure is a very big hole in the cross-section of the dough. It is very airy. The technique of aging four or five days allows the yeast to break down the starches in the flour. It makes a pizza very digestible.”

The biga dough is catching on in the pizza world, Mr. di Fabio said, and quite a few competitors claimed to make a biga. “But when the judges got technical with the questions, they folded,” he said.

“When I said I used a biga dough, they were interested in pulling me apart. I won them over. I let them examine the dough.”

At the competition, the judges watched as each competitor made pizza.

Mr. di Fabio watched his competition as well.

“There were a lot of French chefs there, highly decorated,” he said. “They were making pizzas with lobster and all kinds of cream sauces. True pizza makers don’t appreciate those things. They are too over-the-top.

Mr. di Fabio competed on the second day of the two-day event, and he said he kept seeing “all these crazy creations. I just didn’t feel anyone was capturing the true essence of what pizza should be.”

To him, that is crust, sauce, cheese, and one or two toppings.

For his entry, Mr. di Fabio topped his pizza with hand-crushed tomatoes, aged mozzarella, salt, basil, and a little olive oil.

“Can you imagine the nerve I had to travel such a distance and create such a simple pizza?” he asked. “Nobody had the guts to do what I did.”

But that, apparently, was the key.

The judges “got it,” he said. “They just really understood the true meaning of being a pizzaolo (pizza maker). My point total was so high, it had to be close to perfect.”

Mr. di Fabio is an eight-year veteran of pizza competitions and admits he is a “brash” competitor.

“But when I won, it was just surreal. I hoisted my trophy and kissed my trophy. It was my Wimbledon.”

This may have been Mr. di Fabio’s biggest win and his biggest competition, but it won’t be his last.

“The way I distinguish myself from other pizza makers or better-known pizza makers is I’m the only one who continues to compete and risk my reputation.”

In February he will be off to Ohio to make pizza for a group of judges with a completely different palate.

Mr. di Fabio, who lives in Wilton and often works at Pinocchio on Fridays, will also continue to open restaurants.

In addition to Pinocchio in Wilton, he owns 10 pizzerias around the country as well as Pinocchio Pizza in New Canaan and Pound Ridge, ReNapoli in Greenwich, and Tony’s Napoletana in San Francisco. He is also the co-founder of the International School of Pizza. He said he is planning to open a restaurant in Stamford or White Plains.

For now, he is savoring this latest victory.

At the awards ceremony Mr. di Fabio said, one of the judges told him he gave Mr. di Fabio a perfect score.

“He said it was one of the best pizzas he ever tasted.”