Going for pizza gold
Competition highlights 900 Degrees’ new menu
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
The stone oven was all fired up one recent afternoon at 900 Degrees Pizzeria in Manchester as six chefs competed in true Iron Chef-style to see who could create the best new pizza. The prize? The winner’s pizza will be featured on the specials board when the new menu is launched this week.
Co-owner Erik Sealander and manager-chef Jamie Logan came up with the competition idea. “This was a way to give an incentive to the cooks,” Sealander said. “It gives them a chance to be creative and have fun.”
Judges for the cook-off were myself, Sealander, co-owner Priscilla Lane-Rondeau, and regular customers Jim Maher and Shelly Malone.
Real estate agent Malone knew Lane-Rondeau before the restaurant opened. A drink on the menu, Shelly’s Cantaloupetini, was her suggestion, and she makes it a point to hold all her business meetings at the restaurant. Maher, a corporate commercial real estate consultant, came to the restaurant for the first time right after it opened. “It’s very comfortable, with great people,” he said. “They’re very customer-oriented.”
Anyone who sits at the bar to watch the chefs do their thing can see the camaraderie among them. Even during the competition, one would lend a hand to another if necessary. Chef Ryan Groleau said, “We’re all very passionate about what we do, and we all get along. We have a lot of fun, and the customers appreciate it.”
The competition began with two heats of three chefs each making their pizza creations. The finalists from each heat moved on to a special third round, where they would have 40 minutes to make an appetizer or salad and an entrée or pizza, with a surprise ingredient.
The pizzas in the first two rounds varied from traditional Italian flavors to the more unusual, such as a potato skin pizza and a Buffalo chicken pizza. The two finalists were chef Shawn Purcell with his pizza of rosemary ham, garlic chicken, Alfredo sauce, and oregano; and chef Matt Siwik with his Bella Coso pizza (roasted garlic ricotta cream sauce, caramelized shallots, rosemary ham, spinach, prosciutto, mozzarella cheese, and the house olive oil). The surprise ingredient in the final round was mango. Siwik came out the winner with a mango salsa and a marinated chicken topped with mango.
“I was excited the ingredient was mango,” Siwik said. “It’s so versatile. There’s so much you can do with it. I couldn’t ask for a better ingredient.”
Siwk has been in the restaurant business since he was 15 years old, when he entered the culinary program in high school and food became his passion. “This is the best restaurant I’ve worked at,” he said. “We all know what we have to do. We all have a common goal to serve great food to the customers.”
Siwik’s pizza will be on the specials board for at least a month. If it proves to be popular, then it might be added to the regular menu. In fact, that is how the new menu was created — popular specials such as the mussels fra Diavlo, veggie panini, Tuscan ribeye steak, and Neopolitan red pepper pesto panini were added alongside the regular items. There is also a new drinks menu that will feature a few frozen creations.
Both new menus coincide with the opening of a new outdoor deck. “It was the last real big thing we wanted to do for the restaurant,” Lane-Rondeau said. “It seats 30 people and there are lots of plants and flowers, and we put up blinds to cut down on the heat in the bright sun. It has a real street café feel.”
Though the restaurant has been open less than a year, it has quickly become a popular dining spot. Lane-Rondeau said, “We are pretty humbled by the whole thing and grateful for how southern New Hampshire has responded to us.”