Long Island pizza chef Rob Cervoni wins 'Chopped' competition
Long Island pizzaiolo Rob Cervoni outcooked three other chefs Tuesday to win that night's pizza-themed episode of the Food Network competition "Chopped," walking away with a $10,000 prize.
Cervoni, 35, of Franklin Square, the founder and a co-owner of the artisanal pizzeria Taglio in Mineola, went up against Brooklyn's Miriam Weiskind, who hosts pop-up pizzerias; Chicago's John Carruthers of Crust Fund Pizza, a pop-up charitable venture; and Michael Carter, executive chef of Philadelphia's Down North Pizza. Cervoni specializes in Roman-style pizza, which resembles flatbread but is thicker yet simultaneously airier.
"To win a competition like that for something you're so passionate about, it meant the world to me," Cervoni told Newsday by phone Wednesday from the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. "It was a clarification that what I've been doing all this time is working." He added, "I really am happy for Long Island, because we're not recognized for our pizza. And there's so many amazing pizza makers here that have come before me."
Under the eyes of host Ted Allen, regular judges Scott Conant and Christian Petroni and guest judge Ann Kim at the Food Network studio in Manhattan, the four chefs competed in three rounds, with one chef each being "chopped" in the first two. The contestants had to prepare an appetizer pizza, an entree pie and a dessert pizza using ingredients from a provided basket, plus discretionary ingredients from the studio pantry.
The first round required the contestants to use carrots, frozen mozzarella sticks, white anchovies and ingredients from a charcuterie cone filled with meat slices and other charcuterie-board items. Cervoni, who was born in Lake Success and raised in Great Neck, devised what he called an "All Roads Lead to Rome" Roman-style pizza with garlic, mozzarella and rosemary, using cherry tomatoes as the base topped by bresaola, fresh basil, carrots and Pecorino Romano cheese.
After Weiskind was eliminated, the entree round's basket of ingredients contained kung pao chicken, lacinato kale, bison sausage and honeycomb. Cervoni crafted what he called a "San Gennaro Feast" Roman-style pizza, so named for the abundant sausage-and-peppers dishes at that annual event in Manhattan's Little Italy. He dressed the kale with honeycomb honey, red-pepper flakes and red-wine vinegar, then deep-fried it. Cervoni added a mixture of ricotta cheese and peppers used to season the kung pao chicken (but not the chicken itself).
Carter was then eliminated, leaving Cervoni and Carruthers in the dessert round. Both were confronted with having to use vegan pepperoni and dried pineapple rings, along with strawberries and premade pizza cupcakes. Cervoni offered his take on maritozzi — Roman brioches filled with whipped cream.
He scooped out and discarded the mozzarella and tomato sauce from inside the cupcakes and then deep-fried the shells and sprinkled sugar and cinnamon on them. After piping in a mixture of mascarpone, cinnamon, orange zest and milk chocolate, topping the concoction with a sliced strawberry, Cervoni used the vegan pepperoni and dried pineapple, both finely chopped, together with strawberry jam as a sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce.
The prize money, he says, will go to start "a scholarship fund for young pizza makers to train with some of the best pizza-makers in the world. These master pizza makers come from Europe and stay with you two or three days and charge $1,800-$2,000 for that training." The competition, he says, "wasn't about money for me but about earning the respect of my peers."