Practice makes perfect. Niles Peacock, owner of Niles Peacock Kitchen and Bar, practices every day with his pizza dough, so when he went to the competition — part of the 2022 Pizza Expo in Las Vegas March 20-24 — he felt “ready.”
The competition, put on by the National Association of Pizzeria Operators, is the world’s largest pizza-only trade show. Pizza Expo, at the Las Vegas Convention Center, is the only industry event where you’ll find more than 90 industry-specific seminars, workshops and demonstrations — not to mention 500 exhibiting companies and 1,100 booths.
Niles’ trial effort, in ovens he never used before, was a total disaster. He said his crust was burnt dry, and he was in despair. Other contestants encouraged him to go back and do it again — and he did.
His next effort turned out perfect. Between his first and second attempts, he did lots of research on the Pizza Master ovens and figured it out. His next pizza — the Hot Date, featuring oven-roasted dates melted in with gorgonzola and drizzled with a balsamic reduction sauce — was perfect.
Peacock uses a 66% hydration on his dough. This is high-moisture dough — 29 pounds of flour to 19 pounds of water — and it renders a crisp crust with a moist interior. Plus he’s working with sourdough crust.
Will Grant gave Niles a starter of his own personal sourdough culture, as a birthday gift. “Best birthday present ever, my crust is from a 128-year-old starter culture.”
Puratos launched in 2013 the world’s only sourdough library. Located in the village of St. Vith, 87 miles southeast of Brussels, the library today houses the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters. Peacock has a batch of this sourdough starter.
“This dough happens to be number 104,” Peacock said.
Peacock is no stranger to competition. He was named Best Bartender in the Northwest in 2017.
During the Pizza Expo, he was cooking in front of bleachers with hundreds of viewers, the cameras and the moderators, and none of this made him nervous. He said the competition was a greatest experience.
“Competition is what hones the skills to make the product even better,” he said. “Every batch improves the resulting pizza crust.”
Judges do a visual evaluation of the finished pizza first, and then they cut slices and actually taste the product. Peacock was overwhelmed when the judge popped up and said, “Congratulations.”
Peacock went and sat down until his mentor, Will Grant, owner of Sourdough Willy’s in Kingston, found him and said “Come on, you won!”
“Surreal!” Peacock said, adding he was amazed to get top ranking on his very first competition.
He added he is a perpetual student, humbled by his win but wants to go back again to keep learning.
Winning the non-traditional category, he said, was perfect. “How creative can I get?” He said he feels he will be pursuing perfection for the rest of his life.
Practice includes checking the sourdough; it’s a four-day process. Dough on day one is way different from the product by day four.
Peacock said he is very proud to represent the community of restaurants in Edmonds and feels the win at Pizza Expo is for everyone.
Unlike the bartending competition, pizza competitors share all aspects of their craft; it’s such a supportive community. Chefs come from little towns like Edmonds or Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania — the town in Groundhog Day. Yes, it’s a real town and Peacock met a pizza chef from that spot.
Restaurant News feels privileged to know many of our restaurant owners. I enjoy watching and hearing about collaborative efforts between chefs here in our Edmonds commuity.
Peacock shared an example: Stephen Ono of Ono Poke brought over five pounds of Hawaiian pulled pork shoulder for Niles to experiment with, as a pizza topping. The entire batch of special pizzas sold out in the first half hour they were open. Peacock looked around the restaurant and almost every table had the pizza with the Hawaiian pulled pork.
What’s in store for future? Peacock wants to continue competing. “London, New York City, all over the world!” His goal is to broaden his horizons and exposure to the community of pizza chefs.
“I need a bigger restaurant!” he added.
— By Kathy Passage
A specialty gourmet food broker for over 30 years, Kathy Passage has in-depth knowledge on food and the special qualities of ingredients used in the exquisite products she helped bring to market. Kathy brings this unique perspective from the “other side of the plate” to writing about the food and restaurant scene in Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.