Italy awards world’s best pizza maker title to Australian chef

Pizza may have been invented in Italy but the country’s annual competition for the world’s best slice went to an Australian chef.

The Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza, aka Pizza World Championship, singled out chef Johnny Di Francesco for his margherita pizza. Di Francesco, owner of the 400 Gradi restaurant in Melbourne said he now plans to open a second restaurant location after his victory.

And while his restaurant has seen a spike in business in the days following his victory, Di Francesco says he won’t raise the current prices on his signature pizza ($19.30).

However, he also won’t be heading back to Italy next year to defend his title.

“I’m not allowed to compete in Australia anymore, and once you win at Parma it’s not encouraged to compete again,” Di Francesco, 36, told Hospitality Magazine after his win. “They like to have winners on the panel so I think I might pursue that.”

His victory wasn’t just over Italians. CNN reported that Di Francesco topped more than 600 chefs hailing from 35 countries to take home the championship.

“It’s been an amazing reaction,” he told CNN. “Honestly, I just went to Naples to do what I love. I didn’t think it was going to make such a stir.”

Compared to some other pizzas, a margherita may sound like a simplistic recipe to judge as the world’s best. But the competition organizers say that’s exactly why they have such rigid specifications, to prevent chefs from using elaborate toppings to mask the flavors of other ingredients.

Di Francesco told ABC News that the only toppings competing chefs can use are basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, mozzarella, salt and tomatoes.

“A lot of people think it is easy to produce a margherita but it is one of the hardest (pizzas) to produce,” he said in a separate interview with the Australian website Good Food. “With a margherita there is no hiding anything that isn’t right.”

You can read more about Di Francesco’s specific advice for making your own version of the world’s greatest margherita pizza here.

Follow Eric Pfeiffer on Twitter (@ericpfeiffer)