I woke up in a Vegas hotel room with a puffy face and what you call “mush brain.” It’s not one of my worst gravel breakers, but it’s also not the kind we usually get excited about in this city. I eat too much pizza. Pure Paris. Neapolitan A shop of speech. Vegan Sicilians An experiment.
How much mozzarella can the human body handle? I had spent seven hours the day before before discovering the problem while walking the marinara-colored carpet of the International Pizza Expo, the world’s largest convention for the pizza industry. One of the selling points — or risks — is the endless supply of pizza around. Delicious, just-out-of-the-oven pizza made by the most talented names in the business. Unfortunately for me, character virtue is not my strong suit.
Six miles from Naples, the birthplace of Neapolitan, the expo has brought thousands of people from every corner of the global Neapolitan industry to Vegas for 39 years. They come to experience typical conferences — seminars, networking, gadgets and ingredients from more than 400 exhibitors. Some come to fight in pizza competitions or “Pizza World Games” – every day in sports pizzerias turned into games, such as the fastest group of pizza boxes or an extended meal.
“It’s almost like Olympia pizza and Super Bowl pizza all in one,” said Tony Gemignani, who looks like Michael Phelps-slash-Tom Brady of the expo. This restaurateur, author and champion of Neapolitan has placed the world many times over who has won several Guinness World Records.
Inside the pizza, it’s like summer camp, where you’re guaranteed to see friends from all over the world. The people involved here have reached out. They find the aspiration to pursue their Italian ambitions and learn the skills to better pursue them. Or just really like fresh pepperoni.
A Neapolitan conversation is not a place for tight pants. I changed into jeans on the floats of the airport before arriving at the 3.2-million-foot Las Vegas Convention Center.
I found the Italians gathered in the lobby to be a good indicator of the expo. I followed them into the royal hall, an immense space that felt freshly baked and seemed to stretch on forever.
The first moments were so hectic that they got out of the subway station in Tokyo. The business of the people is everywhere. Bright lights. Futuristic development. mascots They built some tents with the production value of off-Broadway musicals. Mini restaurants have been asking potential customers. One had a garden terrace for an alfresco dining room, where a tabb player and two guitars played surrounded by fake iron hay. Many have huge ovens to cook pizza, soups and focaccia, or refrigerators to cook Sicilian wine and soda.
In addition to food tours, Wiener is a contributing columnist and regular on TV. He has been coming to the Vegas expo since 2007, first as a chicken pizza writer and now as a speaker, judge and tour guide.
“If you just want to have something that tastes good, the best food to eat is not always the companies that sell pizza products,” he said. “They will be selling flour or baked goods.”
He was my Neapolitan North Star, confidently guiding me through the expo. The only thing fixed would be his plan.
I was amazed at the indecision when I stopped to take photos of the evolution guy spoiling the pizza. There was a booth for Dang Brothers Pizza from San Diego, whose specialty is making pizza in vintage wood-fired, wood-fired ovens.
“Do you want pizza?” He asked for the mass of the cylinder.
A whole pizza? Me? I was astonished. I waited for samples, and now I had a whole tube of Neapolitan-style pepperoni pie. It is impossible to put it after the first scratch. I ate another, and he forced me to give the box to a group of bystanders. I might as well have left the puppy at the shelter. What kind of monster makes the perfect pizza?
I refocused on Wiener’s plan and proceeded to the makers of the oven.
They can’t explain it to the public, but it was one of the hottest shelters for the home cook: Ooni cakes, petite, portable ovens that could help someone become an Italian chef.
Some big names were brought to the show, such as Dan Richer, 42, expo regular and owner of Razza – a Jersey City pizzeria that led the New York Times to question whether the best pizza in New York is actually in New Jersey.
Richer’s first Expo was out of law school. He hoped to open his own pizzeria one day and was confused by the equipment and demos. He had tasted every tomato, and investigated every meal. Now 20 years into his Italian career, he returns to the exhibition with the same wonder.
I spent the rest of the day near the pizza competition stage, where Wiener said you could have leftovers worth sampling. My pizza was stained with grease. I would have at least six pieces, among other snacks, and not nearly enough water. On my way out, I passed someone with a slice of pepperoni and immediately asked for more.
Swollen and wobbly, I dragged myself out of bed to make it to Gemignani’s annual 8:30 “Pizzas With Tony Gemignani” workshop. Attendees pay an extra $250 to take a crash course in the legend of meal-making, sauce 101 and the differences between popular Neapolitan styles.
Afterwards the people lined up to get their books signed and to take themselves with Gemignano. I noticed one member of the audience — James Liyu, who owns a pizza place in Melbourne, Australia — was making a beeline for one of Gemignano’s assistants.
I was excited to sit for an hour for a panel discussion about women owning pizzerias. Victoria Tiso of Louie and Ernie’s Pizza — wearing a pair of custom shoes for a Bronx pizzeria recently made with FILA — told me she was comforted to hear other women’s experiences before taking over her family business. Most of the people in the room were women, a departure from the mostly male scene at the expo, although the number of female attendees is growing.
Then he started consulting Scott Sandler on cashew cheese. I had thrown away samples from vegan cheese companies on the first day, but I ate four slices of Sandler’s. Ricotta like “cheese” is easy to make at home and fantastic. More fascinating, I didn’t feel worse after eating them.
I couldn’t say the same after my RockStar energy drink, or canned “pizza cookie” or “pizza wine” (not pizza flavor, just goes with pizza). I broke into an emergency salad pack.
The only thing that eased my pain was the cheese Hog palazzolo. It is a 200-pound commercial cheese grater that shreds 100 pounds per minute. The machine was invented in the 1980s by Pete Palazzolo, an architect and the son of a Sicilian native who was usually stuck in a shredder’s office when his grandmother made pies. Now running a pizza place is a game changer. You haven’t lived until you’ve stamped a stainless steel handle and turned a brick of mozzarella into confetti. The luxury no kitchen gadget could ever replicate.
At least it looked like pizza dough. The world is inedible. The concoctions are made with flour, water and significantly saltier pies than you’ll find at your neighborhood pizzeria. The salt bomb destroys the density of the beef so that it doesn’t tear apart so easily – important for the pizzaiolo-meets-commentary savvy of the competition.
The last to leave was Michael Testa, who competed in “How doin’?” wears t. Back home in Colonia, NJ, Shella works a day job at her family’s two pizzerias: Jersey Boys Pizza and Carmine Factory Pizzeria. He’s been a Neapolitan acrobat for more than a decade—even though he’s only 18. When he was seven, a video of him tossing flour went viral, and the rest is history.
“You know how people go to Disneyland, or go out to Aruba in the summer? This is my vacation, even if it involves work,” Shell said.
The shell scored high enough to advance to the finals of the 2023 competition, but it didn’t make it to the best of the best finals, where Scott Volpe, 31, of Fiamme Pizza Napoletana in Tucson, beat last year’s champion by break dancing. . Spending hours watching pizza turned me into an ardent fan. When the judges didn’t give Volpe 10s across the board, I almost exploded.
Every week, people told me that they were going back to the community center. While watching people connect with the teddy bear and play with each other during my 24 hours on the expo floor, I got it.
Paul Giannone, well-known for his career in the Neapolitan tech industry in his 50s, told me about the time he almost gave up being an expositor. It was a year after the first consulship; he figured it was not necessary to go twice in a row. Then owner Paulie Gee saw his Vegas friends posting on social media and the FOMO kicked in. He got a flight that night “and I didn’t lose one,” he said.
“I’ve made so many friends in this pizza community,” said Giannone, 69, who hails from Brooklyn. “I don’t even call it a pizza place because it’s really a community.”
The crown of the victors remained at the conclusion of the competition. All I wanted to do was sit on the porch and watch. Next to me was Thanwa Ted, 34, a chef at Peppin’s Pizza in Bangkok, who had flown in from Thailand to compete. He said he wasn’t even tired. I tried to hide the toll of consumption, mainly by taking cheese, pepperoni, coffee and bread in my body for three days.
In the last thread posted on the board, I saw a French vending machine that promised to produce a “fresh and artisan” pizza in three minutes. The SMART PIZZA Julia V2 — a 71/2-foot contraption — has an oven capable of 750 degrees (not quite as hot as a proper pizza, but plenty for New York style).
We hung up our camera phones as touch screen computers until, voilà! A pizza box emerged from a VCR machine. The Margherita had a 12-inch inside of a toasted crust, melted cheese, bright tomatoes and green basil.
What did the robot pizza taste like? I will never know this. I would have tried a slice if I didn’t have a debilitating pizza hangover.