Printers by day, Pizza Picassos at night
SEYMOUR-Dave and Kathy Conti spend most weekdays printing political lawn signs, screening letters on shirts and designing menus at their Arrow Printing in Ansonia..
But once the sun goes down they become pizza producing Picassos in their Amber Drive home.
Oh sure. They make the traditionals— cheese; pepperoni; sausage and mushroom. But it’s the extraordinary that pumps Dave’s creative juices.
“I’m studying the Japanese use of foods to complement each other,” he said.
So there’s a pulled pork and dill pickle pizza, as well as a white spinach pie. There’s one with shrimp, pineapple, toasted coconut and Macadamia nuts. Another has prosciutto and arugula topped with a balsamic glaze.
And with family friend, Janine Moore, they’ll even make fruit pizzas for desert.
Then there’s the masterpiece—Lobster Fra Diavolo.
That’s the one that captured the Contis first place in last month’s national Galbani Cheese Classico pizza-making contest at Dominic’s Italian Restaurant in Oceanside, Ca.
“We got this nice trophy,” said Dave Conti, holding a two foot high sterling silver trophy designating them the 2018 U.S. Pizza Cup first place winners.
“And a trip in April to Parma, Italy for a worldwide competition,” adds Kathy.
To area residents their barbecue talents are well known.
In their spare time they run Red Planet Pizza and BBQ—a homespun service that’s catered affairs for Valley businesses like Haynes Construction and DiGiorgi Roofing as well as private parties. They also invite friends over for a bring your own topping party.
Their food-making prowess has some people shaking their heads as to why the Contis don’t turn this into a full-time gig.
“I’ve known Dave almost all my life,” said Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti. “He’d pal around with my brother, Gary. I wonder why he’s not taking advantage of his true calling.”
“I asked them why not open a restaurant downtown,” said Greg Martin, Ansonia’s director of constituent services.
“Printing pays the bills,” responds Kathy Conti. “Food is Dave’s passion but the competitions are expensive.
And winning? It’s nothing new for the Contis.
“We’ve been doing barbecue competitions for a decade,” Kathy Conti said. “We did the World Food Championships three times. We competed in burger and desert competitions.”
Her triple chocolate chip cake with cookie dough icing grabbed first place in a 2016 Mohegan Sun competition.
“It was pretty decadent,” she said.
And the calories?
“Don’t ask,” she laughed.
We did a lot of barbecue competitions,” said Dave, adding that their chicken grabbed first place in a Blues, Views and BBQ competition in Westport. But barbecues take a long time. To do a good brisket takes 14 hours, ribs are six hours...we wanted to try something different,” said Dave Conti.
So last October they entered their first pizza competition in Atlantic City.
“My goal was not to come in last,” said Conti.
They didn’t. His baby back ribs and pickles pizza finished 56th of 60 entries.
That’s not good enough for Dave. So he went back to the drawing board. He played around with spices. He heard Alfonso Saviello, a pizza-making savant from Italy was visiting ilFornino, a New York-based wood oven maker. So Conti took a ride, got a private dough making lesson and now has a pizza-making blog on ilFornino’s website..
“He (Saviello) taught the importance of percentages—water versus dough— and how to know dough is ready for baking by its feel,” Dave Conti said.
Now he makes his dough with Anna Napoletana Extra Fine unbleached flour, seasoned Steel City salts, Temecula olive oil and Fiji Water. “A good dough takes two days.”
The tips helped. Those along with the Jersey tomatoes and hot red pepper used in the sauce, the Vermont-grown garlic, fresh basil, grated Galbani Pecorino romano cheese as well as cheeses like Stracciatella he gets from Liuzzi’s in North Haven enabled them to finish third in the northeast region of the Las Vegas International Pizza competition with their first incarnation of Lobster Fra Diavolo.
“I used a heavy, thick red spicy sauce,” Dave Conti said. “I made a lighter red sauce for California. One judge there gave us a perfect score.’
“We were surprised,” adds Kathy. “We were up against some big names and heavy hitters in the pizza world.”
But Dave Conti said its not just the taste but the presentation that wins.
“Kathy is my food stylist,” Dave Conti said. “She makes it look good on the plate surrounding it with color—there’s a red lobster claw, sliced yellow lemons, green basil leaves and the organically-grown cherry tomatoes.” .
So what’s the future hold?
“I’ll probably do the Lobster Fra Diavolo in Italy,” he said. “The shrimp-pineapple-toasted coconut-Macademia nuts needs some work. I’m going to try a kielbasa pizza and a Big Mac pizza