Food & Drink

Salty, savory, sweet: Columbus pizza chef’s creation scores national award in Vegas

‘Passion of pizza’: Columbus chef makes national award-winning pie featuring special ham

Leo DiCesaris, owner of Cerrone’s Brick Oven Pizzeria in Columbus, was the winner of the best non-traditional pizza from the Southeast Region in the International Pizza Challenge at the International Pizza Expo held in early March in Las Vegas.
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Leo DiCesaris, owner of Cerrone’s Brick Oven Pizzeria in Columbus, was the winner of the best non-traditional pizza from the Southeast Region in the International Pizza Challenge at the International Pizza Expo held in early March in Las Vegas.

A Columbus pizza chef’s use of pork from Spain helped him earn the accolade of best non-traditional pizza in the Southeast at a recent pizza expo in Las Vegas.

Leo DiCesaris, owner of Cerrone’s Brick Oven Pizzeria in Columbus, Georgia, was the winner of the best non-traditional pizza from the Southeast Region in the International Pizza Challenge at the International Pizza Expo, held in early March in Las Vegas, Nevada.

DiCesaris said this is the fourth consecutive year he’s competed in the International Pizza Challenge, which started in 2007. There are five division in the competition:Traditional, Non-Traditional, Pan, Pizza Napoletana and Roman. DiCesaris said there were 200 competitors, with 62 in the non-traditional division in which he competed.

He said non-traditional is a tough division to compete in because of the array of topping chef’s can use.

“There are literally no rules so you can create whatever your mind can come up with,” DiCesaris said.

This year his mind led to a black-hoofed pig from Spain, Jamon Iberico. DiCesaris said the pigs are fed acorns and are one of the most sought-after breeds.

DiCesaris said he used two types of ham from the pig: A spicy chorizo with some heat, and slices hand-carved by a master carver in Spain. He said these were cut just a little thicker than prosciutto.

DiCesaris also used a blend of three different Manchego cheeses, imported from Spain. He said they were aged two months, eight months, and two years. He shredded and blended them together to form the base with the chorizo.

He then reduced a sparkling Spanish Roscato to use as a glaze and sauce for the pizza, added mint, arugula, hand-shaved the manchego cheese as a topping, and finished by crusting pears with pistachios.

Judges scored the taste based on crust, sauce, cheese, toppings, overall taste and creativity. They judged appearance on bake and visual presentation. DiCesaris’ score of 27.33 out of 30 points placed him nearly two points ahead of the nearest competitor in his group.

“It came out fantastic,“ he said. “We used a dough that was about three days old, really high hydration, it came out really good.”

DiCesaris, a Columbus native and Northside high school graduate, said he is currently working with providers to get the products he needs to replicate the pizza for his local customers, perhaps once a week.

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