The pizza that Star reporter Sam Van Schie helped create on her visit to Itza Ristorante & Pizzeria. The Hall Street restaurant is one of six local restaurants in Nelson’s Best Pizza contest.

Secrets surround Itza’s success in Nelson

Great pizza isn’t something you can put into words; you have to experience it.

Great pizza isn’t something you can put into words; you have to experience it.

This is Itza Ristorante & Pizzeria owner Rick Nixon’s philosophy, and the reason he insisted I join him in the kitchen to try making one of Itza’s international award winning pies.

“Have you every made a pizza?” he asks, passing me a 10-inch pan and dough he pulled out of the walk-in refrigerator.

As a teenager, I did my time as a line cook in an Ontario restaurant where the pizza crusts arrived in a frozen stack and the sauce was straight out of a can — nothing like the way they make pizza at Itza.

I got my hands on the soft, fresh dough and started pressing it to the edge of the pan, forming a crust — my first mistake.

“When you order a 10-inch pizza you don’t want to waste an inch on crust,” he said, showing me how to press the dough flat at the sides.

As I’m spreading the house-made sauce, Nixon offers another tip.

“You have to be in a good mood when you make pizza,” he says. “The yeast is alive. You have to have good energy around it.”

Nixon has worked in kitchens for some 20 years and pizza has been his main focus for the past seven, ever since he and his partner Annick Sirois bought Medi Pizza in 2006, which they turned into Itza a few years later.

It’s obvious that Nixon loves his job. As he passes me a handful of spinach to spread on my pizza, he talks excitedly about upcoming pizza competitions.

Last spring he earned a spot in the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas, where his vegetarian pizza was judged to be the best in Canada and among the Top 8 in the world.

I add the cheese — a mix of mozzarella and edam — and a few more toppings, then slide my pan into the oven. While it bakes I try to convince Nixon to tell me some of his pizza making secrets: what’s in the sauce, how does he make the dough so soft?

“Every good pizza chef has his secrets,” he says, revealing nothing.

Fifteen minutes later I pull it out of the oven, golden brown and bubbling. I bring it back to the newspaper office to share, and everyone agrees it tastes as good as it looks.

Itza Ristorante & Pizzeria is one of six local restaurants taking part in the Nelson’s Best Pizza Contest, on now until September 6.

To vote for Itza, go to nelsonstar.com and click “contest” at the top of the page. You must be registered to vote and only one vote is accepted per day.

Other participating restaurants include Louie’s Steakhouse, Panago, Leo’s Pizza & Greek Taverna, Thor’s Pizzeria and Hume Hotel.

The winning pizza will be featured on the cover of {vurb}.