Dave and Linda Winchester, owners of Black Rock Pizza Co. on North McCarran in the Raley’s shopping center, were chosen to compete in the Elite Eight finals of the Pizza Festiva recipe contest at the 24th annual International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas on April 1 and 2.
“We think our pizza stands up,” Winchester said.
They will square off with other finalists, some coming from as far as Australia, and showcase their pizza on Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The top four finalists of that round will be chosen and announced at the World Pizza Games Finals and will return to compete again on Wednesday.
The competition itself allows a limited time for pizza makers to produce a gourmet meal to appease the mouths of judges. Winchester said each contestant gets two hours to prepare and cook the pies, although some preparation, such as making the dough, is allowed beforehand.
The winner of the competition earns a trophy, $5,000 and the coveted reputation of the 2008 Gourmet Pizza of the Year.
The Winchesters subscribe to the Pizza Today magazine, one of the industry’s major publications that features the contest. With 75,000 pizza restaurants in the nation, the challenge —besides feeding countless hungry mouths daily — was created to determine who makes the best pizza, specifically in gourmet pies. According to www.pizzaexpo.com, the event’s official Web site, the convention promises a keynote speech, food and drinks and a spectacle of pizza dough flinging.
Sparks’ Black Rock submitted three of its recipes for the contest. Its most popular gourmet pie, the Smoke Creek, is topped with fresh turkey sausage, shredded pepperoni, crumbled bacon, smoked red onion, smoked roma tomatoes and green bell peppers topped with romano cheese.
The Wirchesters’ Stone Boy recipe is another local favorite, dressed up with pesto sauce blended with Basque chorizo, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and red onions with gorgonzola cheese.
But the chosen finalist is their Poker Brown pie, which includes sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red pappers, and smoked red onion.
The recipe evidently caught someone’s attention.
“We’ve always been interested in good eating,” Linda said.
Each of the Winchesters’ pizzas must meet their own approval, Dave said, which is why Black Rock’s menu is constantly changing.
“We don’t put anything on the menu we don’t like ourselves,” he said.
The customers’ tastes also determine what stays. They have found that many customers actually enjoy the vegetarian pizzas more than the meat because “they’re the ones with the best flavors,” Dave said.
“We use a lot of cheeses and match them up with a spice,” Dave said. “The base cheese is the same, but the topping brings a lot of flavor.”
Dave and Linda share a love for the Black Rock desert in northern Nevada, a region they visit often. Many of their pizzas were named after the area’s distinct characteristics or desert life.
The Winchesters say some of their Calico pizza has “all the colors of the range,” Linda said.
The Black Rock owners are no strangers to running a business. Dave owned several convenience stores before opening Black Rock and Linda, who enjoys cooking, decided to take a few culinary classes in a program at Truckee Meadows Community College to improve her skills.
They found their niche in pizza in their current location in the Raley’s shopping center at the corner of Pyramid Way and McCarran Boulevard.
With 32 employees at Black Rock, about half creating the pies and half taking care of the full-service restaurant, Dave said he enjoys what he does.
“It’s nice to be unique,” he said.