Business

Nelson chef seeks pizza perfection

Itza Ristorante owner and chef Rick Nixon works on a pizza at his downtown restaurant. Nixon’s Harvest pizza helped him place second in Canadian Pizza magazine’s 2012 chef of the year competition. Next up, a pizza bake-off in Las Vegas for an international title. - Kirsten Hildebrand photo
Itza Ristorante owner and chef Rick Nixon works on a pizza at his downtown restaurant. Nixon’s Harvest pizza helped him place second in Canadian Pizza magazine’s 2012 chef of the year competition. Next up, a pizza bake-off in Las Vegas for an international title.
— image credit: Kirsten Hildebrand photo

For a pizza chef, there are few things better than being named second best in Canada. But being invited to compete in the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas might just be one of them.

Rick Nixon owns Itza Ristorante and Pizzeria with his wife Annick Sirois. The chef recently placed second in Canadian Pizza’s 2012 Chef of the Year competition. With that honour comes a guaranteed spot in the finals of the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas this spring.

He’s excited to say the least.

“I just can’t believe there’s a world championship for pizza and I get to go and represent Canada in it,” he says.

In 2011, the Itza chef placed third in the annual competition put on by Canadian Pizza, but only the top two chefs continue on to the competition in Las Vegas held March 19 to 20. No Canadian has ever won the competition with Italy and the US usually taking top honours.

“So, the pressure is on,” grins Nixon. “This is a very new experience for me.”

To enter, Nixon sent in his best pizza recipe — one that came about as a bit of a lark.

“We had these leftover ingredients so we said, ‘let’s throw it on a pizza,’” he says.

A few additional toppings and some tinkering and the Harvest Pizza was born. The winning creation includes basil and walnut pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, baby spinach and royal gala apples giving a crunch and sweetness in every bite. Add slow roasted red peppers, smoked Gruyere cheese and pickled capers.

“The apples provide a sweet aspect to the pizza. We go heavy on the garlic and Parmesan in the pesto so it’s sharp. The roasted peppers are soft and sweet. Then there’s the Gruyere cheese and capers give it that zing that finishes off the flavour,” describes Nixon. “The combination of ingredients is almost perfect.”

With healthy being a big trend in the pizza world, Nixon believes his vegetarian pizza follows suit.

“We want to lose that image of the past. Pizza can be healthy if it’s made properly,” he said.

Nixon will need to come up with a new recipe to compete in the International Pizza Challenge this spring where 10 finalists will battle for the top prize, pizza bake-off style. With Canadian Pizza’s first placing chef choosing to bake a non-traditional pizza, the Nelson competitor will tackle the traditional.

Allowed only two toppings, Nixon is sourcing ingredients and brainstorming ideas to come up with three winning ideas. From there, he plans to “let the town decide” which pizza just might get the Itza chef a world title.

 

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