Sunday, August 9, 2020
In the first competition of its kind, three pizza lovers competed in a pizza cook-off June 26 at Berne Pizza Night. They include, from left: Julie Fuchs of Dodge Center, Tom Pathoulas of Mantorville and Audra Knaup of Zumbrota. Pathoulas with his BBQ pulled pork pizza went on to win the contest.

A pizza cook-off at Berne

In the land where pizza tends to meet the corn fields, pizzas of different sorts captured the attention of Berne Pizza officials during their weekly pizza extravaganza June 26.

Three finalists came together for a pizza cook-off contest with their very own pizza specialties. They were allowed in the Berne kitchen where hundreds of other pizzas are created every Wednesday night during the summer to make their special pies before getting baked in the wood-fired ovens. Judges were close by waiting to sample each of the pizzas.

Julie Fuchs of Dodge Center (representing her sister, Lisa Bennerotte of Inver Grove Heights) whipped up a southwestern chicken pizza while Tom Pathoulas of Mantorville created a BBQ pulled pork pizza and Audra Knaup of Zumbrota produced a taco pizza.

Four judges sampled each of the pizzas and asked a few questions of the cooks. “It’s a homemade BBQ sauce,” Pathoulas interjected as judges sampled his pizza. A short time later, judges declared Pathoulas as the winner.

“They were completely different pizzas,” one of the judges commented.

Pathoulas said his pizza featured a four-generation family BBQ sauce recipe from Nick’s Ribs and Other Good Things. “I dabble in BBQ, and I sell the same to whoever wants it,” he said. 

Besides the BBQ sauce, Pathoulas made pulled pork on the grill and topped it off with banana peppers, red onions, cilantro and mozzarella cheese.

The champion pizza winner says he has made the pizza at home. “My kids think it’s good but that doesn’t mean squat,” Pathoulas said with a chuckle. He said he was surprised to be picked as the winner. “I thought all three pizzas looked pretty darn good,” he added.

The idea for a pizza contest originated through a marketing class at Pine Island High School this past year. Angela Organ, the organizer of Berne Wood-Fired Pizza, teaches the class. She had 18 seniors take the semester long class focused solely on marketing concepts to implement this summer at Berne.

“It takes a lot of work off me and gives them a lot of credit,” Organ said of her student marketers. “This is an original way to get kids to write and market products,” she said, adding the students learned the difference between marketing for various audiences.

In February, the class put out a call for pizza contestants through Facebook. The students picked the finalists from the entries they received. “They picked different ones and ones that were diverse from others,” Organ said. 

Some of the other marketing ideas that will be utilized by Berne Pizza this summer are special senior citizen nights, Celebrate America tribute prior to the Fourth of July and a car show. 

Organ said she is always looking for new ideas to try at Berne Pizza. “It’s a fun challenge,” she says. “That’s what makes people keep coming back.”

And people seem to enjoy the mid-week break out at Berne.

“On a night like this, you can’t beat it,” Pathoulas said. “We’re so lucky to have this so close.”

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