SA’s reigning pizza making champion on the controversial pineapple on pizza debate
Share this article:
Johannesburg - Mark Coombe is a firm believer in the phrase “less is more”, particularly when it comes to pizza.
South Africa’s reigning pizza making champion believes the perfect pizza should have as few toppings as possible.
“A pizza shouldn’t have too many overpowering toppings. I do believe that less is more. Keep it simple otherwise you will just confuse your palate,” Coombs tells the Saturday Star.
Last week the chef, originally from a small seaside town called Newquay in Cornwall, in the UK, was crowned the winner of this year’s Global Pizza Challenge SA 2021, beating 12 other finalists to the top prize.
Coombe creating a heritage-based pizza from his original home town in the UK impressed the judges.
“My toppings were home-made pork and leek sausage. This is very traditional in the UK and I am a big fan of different and fun flavoured sausages – this represented the land; anchovies – this represented the fish as Newquay has an active fishing harbour; kale – this represented the seaweed from the sea; cheddar cheese – a traditional mature flavoured cheese that reminds me of Britain and Parmesan – not really English, but I wanted the flavour of this cheese present on the pizza.”
Born in England, Coombe has more than 20 years of experience in the catering industry – from working in a bakery from the age of 15, and running chalets in the French Alps, to becoming the executive chef of two successful restaurants in the UK.
Since 2013, the genial Cornishman has been the principal at the Pretoria campus of Capsicum Culinary Studio, South Africa’s leading culinary institute.
The Saturday Star caught up with Coombe to chat all things pizza. He also gives us a recipe for a mouthwatering pizza.
How thrilled are you to own such a title?
The Global Pizza Challenge has been around for 12 years and to win the 2021 title feels great. It is a very prestigious event that I am glad to have been able to take part in, let alone win!
What is your definition of a good pizza?
This is obviously personal preference but I do like a thin base; it doesn’t have to be wafer thin but not too thick as it becomes heavy and bread-like.
Does pineapple belong on pizza?
Absolutely not … next.
Anything else you wouldn’t add?
Growing up were you a pizza lover? And what was your favourite pizza?
Pizza is my weakness. I have always enjoyed pizza and it has to have some form of meat such as pepperoni or bacon with a decent amount of cheese.
You grew up in Cornwall in the UK. Tell us about your favourite pizza joint in Cornwall?
A friend of mine used to run a takeaway pizza restaurant and his pizzas were very good, it was always the go-to pizza joint in the area. There’s nothing better than a pizza after a good night out.
Who makes the better pizza, SA or the UK?
I have to be careful what I say here … I do enjoy the wood fire pizzas in South Africa as it creates an authentic flavour and texture. When I was in the UK, they mainly used the electric pizza ovens for consistency but they are still very tasty.
Would you say South Africa has some of the best pizza you have ever tried?
It all depends on which restaurant the pizza is from. If it is handmade with a good dough recipe then it is always a winner. I do have my favourite places to go here and rarely find a below-average pizza.
When looking for a good slice in South Africa, what’s your go-to pizza joint?
I enjoy going to Pizza Perfect as it is cooked in a wood fire oven. They also have pizzas with nice toppings, too.
Debonairs or Romans, who makes the better pizza and why?
To be honest, I am not a fan of either, but if I had to choose it would be Romans. Debonairs have too many sauces on their pizzas which do overpower everything for me.
Tell us about the best slice you have ever enjoyed. What was it, and where did you have it?
The Toni’s pizzeria franchise in Pretoria has some very good pizza flavours. My favourite pizza I have had there is called the “Coscia Dángnello” and it has deboned roast leg of lamb, yoghurt, feta, olives and coriander. It is a very flavoursome pizza with a traditional thin base.
Your favourite toppings on a pizza are?
Pepperoni, bacon and anchovies.
You are making a pizza for President Cyril Ramaphosa. What pizza do you make for him?
I would have to make him my winning pizza to see if he liked the slightly unusual sauce and topping combinations. Alternatively, I would make a pulled beef brisket with sliced flat mushrooms, capers and avocado with a standard dough recipe. The toppings are flavoursome and simple, and with the sharp taste of the capers it will leave a clean taste in your mouth.
Here is Coombe’s beef brisket and mushroom pizza recipe:
1kg cake flour
1 pkt instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 TBL olive oil
Warm water to bind dry ingredients
500g fresh plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
(Blend all together to make sauce)
Slow-cooked, braised brisket pulled
1 tablespoon capers
75g shaved parmesan (Grana Padano)
1 avo sliced
3 large flat mushrooms, marinaded in merlot before cooking
Place all dry dough ingredients into a bowl
Slowly add enough warm water and olive oil and mix
Keep mixing until the dough is loose but not sticky
You can then knead the dough on a surface or use the dough hook attachment if you are using a mixer – knead/mix for 10 minutes
Rest the dough in a warm area so it can double in size (this is called proofing)
Roll the dough into ball shapes and leave on a clean surface to proof again
Roll the dough balls to make the pizza base (can be round or rectangular)
To start you can marinate the flat mushrooms in the red wine for an hour
Blend the tomatoes, garlic and oregano to make the sauce
This can now be placed on top of the raw pizza base
Next, liberally spread the braised brisket on top of the sauce, add the marinated mushrooms followed by the capers and parmesan
Place in a hot over (240 degrees) oven for 6-8 minutes. Then finish with sliced avo once the pizza is out of the oven