World’s best pizza not in Italy

Australian chef Johnny Di Francesco, owner of the 400 Gradi

(CNN) — Australian pizza is now officially the best in the world.

Well, sort of.

Judges at last weekend’s Campionato Mondiale Della Pizza (Pizza World Championship) held in Parma, Italy, awarded the world’s top margherita pizza title to Australian chef Johnny Di Francesco, owner of the 400 Gradi restaurant in Brunswick, a Melbourne suburb.

Di Francesco, 36, beat more than 600 competitors from 35 countries to take home the Specialita Traditionale Garantita pizza prize in the annual competition.

The win and subsequent publicity has made the small restaurant he owns in his hometown an overnight sensation.

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

“A lot of people think it is easy to produce a margherita but it is one of the hardest (pizzas) to produce,” Di Francesco told Australian website Good Food.

“With a lot of other pizzas it’s easy to mask the flavor with toppings so you don’t really get the flavor out of the dough. With a margherita there is no hiding anything that isn’t right.”

Competition rules are strict on what ingredients can top the dough on the margherita: only peeled tomatoes, certain types of mozzarella, garlic, olive oil, salt and fresh basil leaves are used.

Pizza the traditional way

Di Francesco, who says he’s been making pizza since was 12 years old and studied pizza-making at the highly regarded Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Naples, Italy, calls himself a traditionalist when it comes to making pizza.

“It’s an honor to be part of what (Verace Pizza Napoletana) does, striving to preserve a traditional way of making pizza the way they’ve done it in Naples for hundreds of years.”

Although he’s claimed the world title, Di Francesco has no plans to raise the A$20.50 ($19.30) price on the margherita pizza made daily at 400 Gradi.

“No, not at all,” he says with a laugh.

Italian chefs weren’t entirely shut out of the winner’s circle at the competition.

As reported by Good Food, Italian chef Julius Scialpi took home the “classic pizza” prize for a pizza made with mozzarella, eggplant, nostrana, breadcrumbs and anchovies with burrata.

400 Gradi, 99 Lygon St., Brunswick East, Victoria, Australia; +61 (0)3 9380 2320; daily, midday-11 p.m.

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