Local pizza champ takes turn as ‘Chopped’ judge on Super Bowl night

By evening’s end, a certain performance by a man named Bruno surely will have captured the attention of millions, but there is another Bruno who also is set to make an appearance on television tonight.

Bruno DiFabio, a six-time world world pizza champion, will appear as a judge on Food Network’s chef competition series, “Chopped,” for an episode titled “Pizza Perfect.” It will air at 9 p.m., even as the Super Bowl is under way.

“Yeah, I will be going up against one of the most watched television events,” DiFabio said, during a recent telephone interview. “If you miss it, it will be rebroadcast at 9 p.m. on Tuesday.”

Still, the popular show will undoubtedly draw viewers tonight, where they will see DiFabio join judges Amanda Freitag and Alex Guarnaschelli on the show’s season premiere.

“They knew this was my first time and they made me feel incredibly welcome,” he said, of the filming, which took place in New York City.

A competitor himself, he is the 2013 Euro Pizza champion, he said he was extremely impressed by the skill and poise the chefs possessed given the extreme time constraints they have. Every episode is broken into three courses, appetizer, entree and dessert, and with each part, the contestants are given a basket with blind ingredients – although at times there can be a theme.

For DiFabio, who is a 1987 Greenwich High graduate and Ridgefield resident, the opportunity to work on the show with his co-hosts and to see the kind of pressure the competitors face was quite the experience. He also said he was pleased to see the cuisine he has worked his life to master got star billing on the show.

“That’s been my whole life,” he said. “I have really dedicated my life to the science of pizza and pizza making.”

DiFabio owns and operates 10 pizzerias in Connecticut, New York, California and Ohio, including ReNapoli in Old Greenwich and Pinnochio Pizza in New Canaan. He also is the co-founder of the International School of Pizza in San Francisco and is working with chefs from around the world to continue the traditions of different pizza making styles from around the world.

He started out in the restaurant business at 10, “scrubbing pots and pans” in the kitchen of his grandfather’s Tony’s Italian Kitchen restaurant on New York City’ West Side. He said he thinks it was his desire to prove that he could exceed the expectations of his grandfather and the other cooks in the kitchen that he worked so hard to be good at what he did – whether it was making pizza dough, shaping the pies or creating entrees and other courses.

He said he continues to look for new opportunities and ways to challenge himself. For instance, he is busy at work with partners to open a string of New York style pizzerias that soon will bring artisan pies to London. He also is at work with a partner to bring a new reality cooking show to television called “Pizza Kings.” In that show, the challenge is sourcing ingredients from wherever DiFabio and his partner end up in the world and then creating a pizza in the most conventional, or, if called for, unconventional ways. (You can read more about it here.)

Such is DiFabio’s challenge. As for “Chopped,” DiFabio said he gained a newfound respect for the competitors who are at the mercy of the clock and oddball ingredients – in “Pizza Perfect” dessert must include candied mushrooms and salted caramel sauce.

“When they look worried on TV, they are worried,” he said of the judges who watch as that clock ticks down. “Twenty minutes is 20 minutes, and if you don’t make it … epic fail … that’s the way it is … that’s the show.”

Christina Hennessy