“Check it out,” said the publicist. “You’re standing in pizza’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Here were a couple dozen men in yellow shirts and white hats, coaxing an enormous mobile oven over the final stretch of a 1.3-mile-long ribbon of dough resting atop a trail of aluminum scaffolding. Some were trimming and aerating dough with plastic tools; some hovering around the mega-oven, inching it forward like a parade float. There were guys gently lifting folds of dough off the scaffolding, readying it for other guys who carefully inserted each contiguous portion into the 1,000-degree inferno’s mouth.
This team had started working at 7 the previous evening. Now it was 9 in the morning and no one had slept. The publicist kept pointing out all these important-sounding names and restaurants. It seemed as if everyone who was anyone in the pizza world had come to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana to break the Guinness World Record for the Longest Pizza in the World.
The idea was hatched more than a year ago, after a handful of American pizza-industry vets got wind of the record set in Naples, Italy. (That pizza measured 6,082 feet and 3.4 inches long, or about 1.15 miles.) The quest to win the title for the United States had been nine months in the making. The Americans, led by Fash Asvadi, the founder of pizzaovens.com, secured sponsors to donate truckloads of cheese, sauce and flour. They needed a site that would be big enough — football fields were too small, airport runways had too many regulations, and environmental agencies nixed the plan to use the bike path stretching along the Pacific coast.
Eventually they found the Speedway, but now the health department was breathing down their necks. Last year’s record-setting pizza in Naples had taken more than eight hours to bake, but that was only possible because the Italians were dealing with fewer health regulations. In San Bernardino County, by contrast, cooked food cannot sit out at room temperature for longer than four hours. The aspiring record-breakers thus had to sauce and cheese 7,000 feet of par-baked dough before the mega-oven was brought over the crust for the final time. That left two hours for the oven to get through the whole thing. A minute longer and it was all over.
In the middle of all this stood a Guinness World Records adjudicator in an official tie and jacket; she held a clipboard with a checklist of criteria the pizza had to meet in order to claim the record. The Longest Pizza in the World must be at least 20 inches in width (the estimated diameter of a large pizza you might order in a restaurant). It must be topped with sauce and cheese. None of the finished product could be thrown away, so whatever wasn’t eaten on-site had to be donated to a food bank or charity of some kind. The point of these criteria, she told me, was to ensure that the Brobdingnagian monstrosity stretching over the horizon could still be identified as pizza at the end of the day.
Even in the balmy, 76-degree weather at the Speedway, baking the World’s Longest Pizza was a constant battle against the elements. The moisture trapped between the par-baked crust and the cling wrap protecting it had created undesirable pockets of condensation overnight. By noon, the crust was cracking and breaking apart in the dry heat. The wind whipped flecks of marinara off of the scaffolding onto my dress.
Yet the greatest obstacle by far lay in wheeling the oven around the scaffolding’s curve as it followed the bend of the racetrack. The pizza kept snagging and choking in the oven. Occasionally you’d see heaps of scorched and disfigured pizza sitting on the asphalt, souring and melting in the Fontana sun like piles of radioactive waste. A couple pizzaioli hurriedly unloaded trays of fresh replacement dough from a truck while another spoke into a walkie-talkie: “Where? Again? How big of a patch are we talking about? Can we cut off some dough on the other side and use that to suture the hole?”
Surprisingly, given the extraordinary effort, many of the pizza makers confessed that breaking the Guinness World Record was really beside the point. When 12-time World Pizza Cup champion Tony Gemignani calls you up with an opportunity to collaborate, you take the time to listen. That’s how the independent pizza industry works. Fifty-five professional pizza makers had flown in from as far as New York and Chicago. More than 150 local pizza lovers had enlisted as volunteers.
By around 4 p.m., a crowd of hundreds had gathered at the finish line to watch the mega-oven roll down the final stretch. Rumor of the Longest Pizza in the World had been heard on the radio and seen on various social media channels. There were families who had driven out from as far as Oceanside and Las Vegas to see it.
“We’re here for the bragging rights,” a woman told me. “When else will you be able to tell someone that you’ve taken a bite out of the World’s Longest Pizza?”
Only after all the holes were patched and a surveyor had proclaimed a new Guinness World Record holder could the pizza could be sliced and boxed. The entire thing made roughly 63,000 6-inch-by-4-inch servings. Most of it would be donated to homeless shelters, but there was still more than enough to feed all of the spectators, too.
I took a bite as I drove out of the parking lot. The pizza was woefully undersauced, and the distribution of cheese was uneven and stingy. The crust was tough and reeked of the oven’s parched and gaseous breath. But who really cares? The new holders of the Guinness World Record didn’t have to apologize for dry and cardboardlike pizzas — just insufficiently lengthy pizzas.
See our slideshow from the event here.
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