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Brown Dog’s Detroit-style Brooklyn Bridge pizza wins at International Pizza Challenge

Heather Sackett
Telluride Daily Planet

A team of Telluride pizza makers continues to rack up wins at the International Pizza Challenge using the recipes developed by Brown Dog Pizza owner Jeff Smokevitch.

Brown Dog pizza chefs Jose Suarez, Charley Rangel, Mateo Lucas and Smokevitch traveled to Las Vegas two weeks ago to compete in the International Pizza Expo’s Pizza Challenge. Rangel competed in the new gluten-free division, Lucas competed in the pan division and Suarez entered the traditional division. Suarez took home second place in the division, winning the mid-America regional title in the process. Pizza makers can only choose two toppings in the traditional division.

Suarez cooked up a Detroit-style pizza known as the “Brooklyn Bridge.” It has brick, mozzarella and white cheddar cheese, natural-casing pepperoni, Italian sausage, Sicilian oregano and is finished with dollops of a ricotta blend. The popular pizza, which can be found on Brown Dog’s regular menu, has a few secrets to its success, Smokevitch said. The Italian sausage goes on top raw so all the flavor bakes into the pie. The ricotta cheese blend contains mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano cheeses. And the Detroit-style crust has a special baking process to ensure its edges are crispy and the middle is chewy, soft and airy.

“It’s such a classic pizza,” Smokevitch said. “And then having that ricotta dolloped on top too just gives it that extra kick … You’ve got to do something with a little twist. You can’t just make a cheese pizza.”

* This isn’t the first time one of Smokevitch’s recipes has won awards. Last year he took home first place in the American Pan division for the 3-1-3, a pizza topped with hot peppers, cured salami and arugula. That pizza also had Brown Dog’s signature crust: the Detroit-style. Smokevitch uses a blue steel pan, a deck oven set to 550 or 600 degrees, par-baking and a four-day cold fermenting process to achieve the right flavor and consistency of customers’ favorite crust. It took him years, he said, to perfect the recipe but he now has it down to a science.

“When you ferment dough, it gets more flavor, more structure, more complexity over time,” Smokevitch said. “The more time you have to ferment, the better.”

The competition was the first for Suarez and Rangel and Smokevitch made sure they were prepared for the different conditions Las Vegas presented. An unfamiliar oven, the lower altitude and cold atmosphere of the air-conditioned conference center all presented challenges.

“We were constantly testing stuff weeks before the competition,” Smokevitch said. “We had pizza practice for a week where I would time them every day and they would have to make two pizzas each.”

Smokevitch is currently in Italy preparing for the World Pizza Championships, where he will compete in the pan, classic and gluten-free divisions. He attended the International School of Pizza in 2010 and has competed in about 10-15 competitions. He said the pizza he makes for the Italian competitions is very different from the American ones. The Italian judges prefer their pizzas thin, crispy and with few toppings and he adjusts his recipes accordingly. Different preferences in different places make the judging process really subjective, Smokevitch said.

“I’ve gotten last before with the same pizza I won with,” he said. “It was in Columbus, Ohio and the judges were all college students so they like Domino’s.”

Suarez and Rangel said they will be more prepared for next year’s International Pizza Challenge now that they know what to expect. Smokevitch said the competitions help make Brown Dog better.

“I love the challenge of it,” he said. “It makes our business better when I’m doing these competitions.”

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