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Denver-Based The Gluten Free Explorer Wins 2016 International Pizza Challenge, Gluten-Free Division

No Way!

2016 International Pizza Challenge Gluten Free, Victoria WolfIs what I shouted as I jumped 3 feet in the air (Rich claims he has never seen me jump so high) after they called my name as the winner of the 2016 International Pizza Challenge, Gluten Free Division, in Las Vegas on March 10, 2016.

Rich and I decided to attend the Pizza Expo this year to check out the world of pizza and see what was going on. Since starting our gluten free baking company last year and specializing in pizza crusts, we found ourselves in the middle of this industry without really knowing much about it. In February, we registered for the Expo and during the online registration, a window popped up and asked if we wanted to enter the International Pizza Challenge. We knew a bit about the Challenge from the website and thought it would be fun to try. So we entered the Gluten Free Division.

For the next 6 weeks we planned, strategized and tested our entry. I am not only gluten free but dairy free as well and did not want to make a pizza for the judges that I could not eat. Rich and I have been working on a ready-to-bake line of pizzas for The Gluten Free Explorer and had tested a few pizzas for friends back in December. The pizza everyone loved the most was our gluten free and dairy free bacon, chicken, broccoli, and ranch, made with a dairy-free scratch-made ranch dressing.  We felt taking a dairy free pizza (yes, it was cheeseless!) to an international pizza competition was a bold move that would either be well received or a complete fail. We knew there would not be a middle ground with a cheeseless pizza. Since I felt very strongly about making a pizza I too could actually eat, we made the bold decision to present BCBR pizza.

Victoria Wolf, The Gluten Free Explorer, International Pizza Challenge 2016, Gluten Free DivisionAlthough Rich and I completed all our prep for the pizzas early in that morning, we still arrived early for the competition. We watched all the competitors arrive and begin prepping their pizza toppings and dough. We had wonderful conversations with some of the competitors as we waited for the competition to begin. At 10 am, it began. I was #7 and we competed in order. At around 11 am, it was my turn to make my pizzas. After waiting since early in the morning, I was very excited to finally get the chance to compete. I think I actually smiled continuously during the entire competition.

I had 30 minutes to top and bake two pizzas. In the weeks leading up to the competition, we utilized the immense experience of one of our customers, McKinners Pizza in Littleton. Dennis and Kevin allowed us to practice in their kitchen and use their deck ovens. It was an invaluable experience for us. Because of that practice, I was able to complete the task, on time, without any issues.

After the pizzas were out of the oven, it was time to present to the 5 judges. I explained to them why I was presenting a cheeseless pizza and explained the toppings and crust. After examining the pizza, I cut it and served a piece to each judge. Then I waited.

The competition went on until 3 pm and during the waiting time, I really had no expectations. For me, I had accomplished what I set out to do. I made a pizza I loved, experienced immense fun in the process and met quite a few amazing people. Did I want to win, of course! Did I need to win, no. Three years prior to competition day I didn’t believe I could even cook well and never imagined I could put flavors together that others would love to eat. And, I never thought I would be living a life where I would be cooking all the time. Yes, I wanted to win, but you can see how I already considered myself a winner.

Victoria Wolf, The Gluten Free Explorer, International Pizza Challenge 2016, Gluten Free DivisionIt was time to announce the winners and I was excited. A place in the top ten would have been nice (there were 30 competitors). They announced only the top three, starting with third place. As the first place winner was about to be announced I don’t recall having any thoughts in my mind, which rarely ever happens. Then, I heard my name, jumped in the air and screamed, “no way!” Wow, what an experience it was.

The most important thing about winning is not the winning part. It is the validation that we are truly helping change the world’s impression of what gluten free is, or should I say, is not. And, we are changing the notion of what pizza is as well. In my opinion, pizza crust does not need to be made from wheat flour to be delicious, and pizzas do not need to be topped with cheese to be considered a tasty slice. I hope that this win will allow me to take this message, spread it far and wide and make help those the gluten and/or dairy-free have more pizza choices the next time they dine at their favorite pizzeria.


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Comments (6)

  1. Erik Brainard Mar 15, 2016 at 11:47 am Reply

    Congratulations! We have had your deep dish pizza bread (made as garlic bread as suggested in the package) 2 nights in a row. The first night was at a family gathering where not only is the majority of the crowd not GF, the scoff at anything that is. They couldn’t resist them! Thanks for making a delicious product my daughter can enjoy.
    P.S.- I’m a natural/organic broker. We’d love to represent your line if you don’t already have representation.

    1. The Gluten Free Explorer Mar 15, 2016 at 1:56 pm Reply

      So wonderful to hear!! We wanted to make products everyone, not just the GF, would love.


  2. Jim King Mar 15, 2016 at 12:37 pm Reply

    Way to go! The best food that one can cook is the food you love to share. It just tastes better.
    Please contact me regarding your gf crust I met you guys at Pizza Metro-


    Rolling Stone Pizza

    1. The Gluten Free Explorer Mar 15, 2016 at 1:55 pm Reply

      Thank you Jim! We will definitely contact you about our GF crusts.


  3. Lydia Mar 16, 2016 at 3:44 am Reply

    Congratulations! We live in Denver and I am dairy free, but our youngest daughter is gluten free due to celiac. We own a shop Called greenwood village cafe. We do a lot of gfree foods there. Where will you be selling your crusts? I would love to buy some.

    1. The Gluten Free Explorer Mar 16, 2016 at 1:30 pm Reply

      Thanks for your comment! Our products are available in Natural Grocers and in a few weeks we will be at the DTC store. We can also provide you with product for your cafe too. I will contact you via email. Thanks!!

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