Meet Greg Spaulding, 29-year-old pizza chef from Kentucky, USA who was a guest competitor on the U.S. team in the 2012 Pizza World Championships. His performance and stellar ratings have since earned him a permanent spot on the team. GoHospitality talks with Spaudling about his experience as a pizza chef and his experience competing in the Pizza World Championships.
How long have you been a pizza chef?
I have been a pizza chef for 10 years.
Where are you currently working?
I currently work at Puccini's Smiling Teeth in Lexington, KY.
What is your favourite type of pizza to make?
I enjoy making gourmet pizzas. I get a heightened sense of gratification when I create a unique pie using ingredients not typically found on pizza.
What is your favourite type of pizza to eat?
As far as eating pizza, I do enjoy the classics and more basic, usually a few fresh vegetables in combination with a good protein.
When did you know that this was your passion?
I left the corporate pizza business and began working in a small company that serves completely homemade pies. This move helped me to grow as a chef and a pizza maker, and I really fell in love with pizza making and the pizza business. I have an intense passion for what I do knowing that everyday I learn new things and improving my skills as a chef.
Is there an area that you wish to explore more?
An area that I would like to explore more in regards to pizza making would be innovation. I would love to have more time to think "outside the box" and really begin creating fun and flavor intense pies.
Out of the competitions you were in today what was your favourite?
My favorite category of competition was Pizza a Due. Being able to work with another person with incredible skill was a lot of fun. Being able to trust a complete stranger to work along side me and see our beautifully executed final product was intensely satisfying.
What do you think the judges are most looking for?
I believe every judge is different. My first year competing in Italy was in 2012. My perception going into that competition was that Italians don't use a large quantity of toppings both numerically and quantitatively. That being said, I tried to make my pizza the way the Italians do but with little personal style. The judging panel is made up of a diverse international roster, which is great in alleviating any sense of perceived bias. In my experience, I have concluded that every judge is looking for homemade ingredients using fresh raw materials. The dough should have a good levitation, or rise, to it and baked to perfection. Ingredients should complement the each other in flavor while being visually stimulating. While I love being innovative, I believe that to be very bias while some judges are going to be traditionalists and others more modern.
If you could make any of those pizzas again would you change anything?
I was extremely satisfied with all three of my pizzas that I presented at the 2013 World Pizza Championship; however, being the perfectionist that I am, I can always think of things that I would have done differently. Being so far from home, I make everything there in Italy and in a kitchen I am not used to and perhaps very limited in regards to supplies, equipment and time. Furthermore, the ovens at the competition are different than I am used to and every oven is different. This is perhaps the most fun aspect of competing: having to rely on years of experience and knowledge to adapt and produce the best pie you can. In short, I was extremely satisfied with the bake and visual appeal of my pies; however, I did not have the chance to taste them so I cannot comment in that regard.
How did you get chosen to be part of the World Pizza Championships representing USA?
I won the 2011 Bluegrass Pizza Bakeoff, which is local competition in my home state of KY. As a prize, I was privileged enough to travel to Salsomaggiore, Italy, with the United States Pizza Team as a guest competitor. I ended up receiving the highest score in the classic division of any American and I have been honored to maintain my spot on the U.S. pizza team.
What did you notice about the trends in the pizzas from each country?
Every country has its own definition of "classic" pizza. I believe that to be due in large part to geographic location and culture. For example, areas located near the sea I would expect to incorporate more seafood ingredients than those not geographically favored to the sea. The same goes with produce. Local climates allow for variations in vegetables and herbs and proteins (meat), culturally speaking. Over the last 50 or more years, with the invention of refrigeration and improvements in transportation, importing has allowed for a wider variety of ingredients to choose from.
What would you change about this event?
I would be hard pressed to find many flaws in this competition. Being as large as it is, it is very difficult to keep every aspect of competition on a level playing field. I think that the championship does a wonderful job of dealing with these variables by offering a variety of ovens, implementing rules and guidelines, and maintaining an internationally representative judging panel. Ideally, everyone should present to the same judges but with so many competitors, that is simply not feasible.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
I would describe myself as passionate, driven, and always striving for perfection.
My favorite song is Proudest Monkey by Dave Matthews Band.
Do you have any bad qualities when it comes to your work?
A bad quality at work would depend on who you ask. My colleagues would probably say that I set the standard too high. I would say that I enjoy cooking on the line too much, which sometimes inhibits my effectiveness as a manager.
Likes and dislikes of your job?
I like almost every aspect of my job. Sometimes it is hard dealing with both customers and colleagues. Being a perfectionist, I try exceptionally hard to make everyone happy, which we all know is impossible. Most of the time I am fine with working 13 or 14 hour days and just putting in a lot of hours, but every once in a while it catches up to me. Terminating employees is probably the hardest part of my job. Other than that, I love cooking and cleaning, prep work, and even washing dishes (most of the time).
If you could live on one food for the rest of your life what would it be?
If I had to live on one food, it would undoubtedly be pizza.
What is one item of clothing you cant live without?
I would like to say my chef coat, but I am going to go with my baseball hat!
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
My grandfather is my greatest inspiration. He recently passed away and all the way until the very end, he had the most intense appreciation of life of anyone I have ever met. He was a family man and placed the utmost importance to family because he knew that the family unit is the most important part of life.