Pizza is one of mankind’s greatest culinary achievements. We all have a favorite topping combination or a favorite regional style and most of us can even remember the distinct taste of the hometown pizzeria that defined what pizza was for us during our childhood. It’s a special kind of food that can bring people together, put a smile on their face and is never more than a call or click away.
Now I could go on and on about the minute complexities of pizza and we could discuss dough hydration, New York vs. Chicago style or if pineapple should ever be worthy of being a pizza topping. But instead, I have a story to tell that will fully encapsulate my personal love of pizza, make some of you jealous and make others question my sanity. This is my story of attending the 2017 International Pizza Expo.
It all started last year when I saw an ad for the International B2B Pizza Expo while flipping through my monthly issue of Pizza Today magazine (yes, it’s real). I had heard about it before, but it was never more than a dream destination that felt like some sort of far off “end game” goal for me. But I guess I was feeling adventurous that day and told myself that I was going to attend the 2017 Expo, no matter what.
Set up in the heart of Las Vegas for three full days of pizza-fueled fun, the Pizza Expo is to pizza as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is to candy. And I was lucky enough to have a golden ticket.
If you ever want to go to Pizza Expo, you best be part of the pizza industry in some way or you’re going to have a bad time. This isn’t some “open to the public” pizza fanatic convention. This is an exclusive closed event only for those who are actually in the pizza business. But like any determined millennial, I wasn’t going to let “the man” bar me from entering my own personal heaven on earth just because I wasn’t technically part of the industry.
So I devised a plan to slightly bend the truth on my registration application by saying I was “representing a media outlet” interested in covering the expo. I mean, I ran a food blog for one of my courses in college. It may have been two years since I had taken that class, but hey, that registration application never asked how active the media outlet was, so I was totally in the clear.
Las Vegas is exactly like people say it is. It’s kinda nice, kinda trashy and it’s a city that never sleeps. The good news was that my hotel upgraded me to a suite for free. (Shoutout to the hotel for overbooking the room I had booked!) The bad news was that I had to skip out on the Vegas “nightlife” because for whatever reason, the organizers thought starting an event at 8 a.m. in Vegas was a good idea. So the next morning, with sleep in my eyes, I got up and made my way to the convention center where I patiently awaited the opening keynote to begin and kick-off the show.
It ended up being a great speech filled with valuable restaurant knowledge and insights to the industry you wouldn’t hear anywhere else. I sat there soaking up every word as the speaker spoke with great passion about his restaurants and told us his keys to success. But by the end of the keynote, my hunger to set foot on the show floor and explore all the wonders it had to offer had officially taken over my mind.
After what felt like hours, the show floor doors finally opened and like a swarm of crazed Black Friday shoppers, the thousands of expo attendees flooded in. What awaited beyond those doors was unlike anything I had ever seen. There were pizza products as far as the eye could see.
The show floor spanned over six football fields in length and housed more than one thousand different exhibitors. It was sensory overload as the sights, sounds and smells culminated into something both overwhelming and completely beautiful.
I never had to worry about eating breakfast or lunch during my time there. The sheer amount of food samples available to me were far more than one person could ever eat. Literally hundreds of pizzas to sample, cheeses, toppings, chicken wings, gelato, breads, sauces and yes, even craft beer and wine. Want to taste a certain type of cheese? There’s a booth for that. Want to sample wood-fired pizza? There’s a booth for that. Want to try multiple flavors of gelato and wash it down with a craft beer? There’s a...well you get the point.
Every day was something different. I got to meet some of the world’s top pizza chefs, networked with some of the industry’s top professionals and learned more about pizza than I ever imagined I would. I even got to see the best pizza dough acrobats compete in the World Pizza Championship Finals!
Before I knew it, the three pizza-filled days of excitement had passed and it was time to come back to reality. I left with an unforgettable experience, a dream come true and more pizza knowledge than you can shake a stick at.
For people like me, pizza is a way of life. For other people, it’s just a tasty treat. No matter which way you look at it, pizza is awesome and if you’ve made it this far without craving pizza, I’m impressed.
If not, what are you waiting for? Go get some pizza.
You deserve it.