Diana Coutu's pie in the sky odyssey began with a part-time delivery job at Domino's while attending university. "I really loved the business," says Coutu, as she tours me around her gleaming kitchen in Winnipeg while intermittent clouds of flour fill the air, "driving my own car, listening to music." She was 20-years old when she met her husband and partner Pierre Coutu, at the same local pizza shop. They went on to run several Winnipeg franchises before launching her eponymous storefront, Diana's Gourmet Pizzeria, where the pizza is a slice above the competition: "Simple all-natural ingredients taste great. Combine them, and that's what pizza's meant to be," she says.
Because, while Diana's Gourmet Pizzeria may look and sound like a regular take-out joint, from the garden salads to the chicken wings and cheese sticks (granted, there is a whole award-winning pizza section that includes the Ricky's Revenge: a Trailer Park Boys-inspired pizza), her pies put most other delivery shops to shame.
So what makes Diana's pies so different? Perhaps it's her pedigree: At the World Pizza Championship Games in Salsomaggiore, Italy, Coutu has won back-to-back titles and last year was given the honour of being an official judge. A banner year for the Winnipeg pizza maker, in 2009 she also became the first Canadian finalist for Pizza of the Year in Vegas.
Maybe she's got a special touch with her signature hand-tossed Moosehead dough. Or, it could be the unique Picard stone conveyor pizza oven. The small-batch house-made tomato sauce and premium toppings like fresh-cut pineapple and local dry cured pepperoni? Or is it simply her enthusiasm for ‘za that makes Coutu's pizza taste so good?
In the name of research I try a few slices. And then I try a few more. (They also offer fresh "take-n-bake" at home pizzas, frozen prepared pizzas, and frozen balls of signature Moosehead beer dough.) The hot-from-the-oven pepperoni offers up heaps of ungreasy cured rounds with tender burnished edges tucked into the melted cheese; the sweet and spicy Divine Swine, meanwhile, is true to its name. But I think the award-winning Havarti Heaven is my favourite pie of all. Let's start with the crust: It's thin and airy, crispy on the bottom with the pleasing crunch of semolina. The bacon is maple-smoked, the Cajun chicken is moist, and the roasted red peppers add sweetness to just the right amount of gooey cheese. Bottom line: This pizza tastes like a magic trick.
But only in Winnipeg, eh? Pity.