Mark Coombe is officially South Africa’s reigning pizza making champion. And it’s the chef’s Cornish heritage that led to his winning this year’s Global Pizza Challenge SA 2021 and beating 12 other finalists for the top prize.
He explains the inspiration for this winning creation.
“I decided to create a sort of heritage-based pizza from my original home town in the UK – a small seaside town called Newquay in Cornwall. There is a lot of freshly grown produce in the area so I made my pizza sauce base from pumpkin and parsnip to be a little different from the norm. For me this represented the earth.
“My toppings were homemade 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’ experience in the catering industry – from working in a bakery from the age of 15, running chalets in the French Alps, to becoming the executive chef of two successful restaurants in the UK.
“I was then given the chance to come to South Africa and while here I ran my own restaurant for two years and then consulted.”
Since 2013, the genial Cornishman has been the principal at the Pretoria campus of Capsicum Culinary Studio, South Africa’s leading culinary institute and which is, he explains, one of the reasons he made the decision to enter the competition.
“I thought it would be good fun to enter and also to encourage our students to enter as well. If they see someone like myself, or their lecturer, enter a competition it could give them that final push to do the same.”
Coombe shares his top tips for making a great pizza:
- You have to have a decent dough to start with. It must be homemade and left to prove two to three times to incorporate air into the dough.
- Use quality ingredients for your topping.
- Don’t use too many toppings otherwise you will confuse your palate. It is the less is more principle.
- Don’t pile your toppings on so much that you can’t actually eat the pizza. It will baffle your palate and they will also fall off.
What does he say to those who are agog that an Englishman has been crowned the country’s champion pizza maker?
“Pizza in the UK is very popular and, anyway, people around the world have tailormade pizzas to their own palates. I know the Italians prefer less toppings and opt to keep it simple but as long as you don’t over complicate your pizza, it will be delicious.”
Does pineapple belong on pizza? “Absolutely not … next.”
Anything else he wouldn’t add? “Banana!”
Coombe says he will put the prize money towards his family’s annual December holiday: “And while we won’t have pizza on Christmas Day, I see myself having to recreate my winning dish for family and friends.”