Foie gras and pickled cherries on a pizza may not sound like the average toppings at your favorite pizzeria, but they’re not supposed to.
The seemingly unique toppings are what helped Lars Smith, owner of Los Altos’ State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria, earn a world pizza championship title last year.
Founded in 1985, the International Pizza Expo – the largest show in the pizza industry – features the international pizza challenge, which draws pizza connoisseurs from around the world.
The competition comprises five divisions: traditional, nontraditional, pan, pizza napoletana and gluten-free. Smith’s pizza, which he originally dubbed Duck Duck Cherry, triumphed in the nontraditional category.
“Last year after we signed the lease (for State of Mind), we said, ‘All right, we’re going to go (to the expo) as State of Mind before we open this place,’” Smith said of competing for the first time under the restaurant’s name.
Because Duck Duck Cherry – which now tops the State of Mind menu as What the Duck – earned Smith the gold last year, he wasn’t eligible to compete in the nontraditional category this year. Instead, he signed up co-owner and manager Amy Betz.
Betz and Smith met years ago while working at Pizza My Heart and are no strangers to the Pizza Expo, having attended with their former employers. But for Betz, it was her first time center stage.
“You go and you compete against 60 people from all over the world,” she said of the expo. “I’ve made so many pizzas in my life since I’ve been in the industry, but just doing it in front of people was nerve-racking.”
Betz said her finished pie, El Puerco Fantastico, was Smith’s dream pizza that the restaurant’s team helped tweak to perfection. It was topped with apple-cider-braised pork belly, pork sauce, mozzarella cheese, kabocha squash, jalapeño, honey vinaigrette, pickled apples and San Joaquin Gold cheese. Smith said diners should keep an eye on the State of Mind menu the next few weeks, as El Puerco Fantastico may make a special appearance.
Business ties and business pies
Outside of the competition, Smith and Betz said the expo has given them an opportunity to expand their business and develop industry connections.
“In some ways, we’re already connected really well because we worked for Pizza My Heart,” Smith said. “But at the same time, having won last year (and) getting into Pizza Today magazine multiple times opens us up with different tomato vendors, olive oil vendors, (because) they know who you are.”
Smith added that the “pizza community” is a tight-knit one, and winning the 2017 nontraditional category has helped spread the word throughout the community. His top prized pie also has helped put the State of Mind name on the map for diners.
“Even if people don’t know (about it because) it’s an industry-only trade event and the industry magazine is the one that sponsors it, we still have a trophy on the wall that says I had the best nontraditional pizza in the world last year,” Smith said. “I think it has helped a lot, and it lends credibility to a brand-new place.”
Business has been booming since State of Mind opened more than two months ago, and Smith and Betz said they won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Betz said they plan to offer a seasonal menu, and Smith added that he’d like to host events such as tap takeovers and themed pizza nights.
State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria is located at 100 Plaza North, Los Altos. For more information, visit stateofmindpublichouse.com.