Wood v Food: It's all about the base in Cafe Kelstar pizza battle
It's a whole lotta dough as our man tackles a titan of the toppings
Riding high on the buzz from last week’s victory, Wood v Food decided to head west in a bid to go one up in the series.
I planned to take the lead at the Cafe Kelstar by taking on their awe-inspiring 26-inch pizza — probably the largest in Northern Ireland.
The popular restaurant on Belfast’s Andersonstown Road turns its hand to a commendable range of fast food stalwarts; everything from fish suppers and pasties to nearly every possible pizza permutation.
With the customary sceptical photographer in tow, I hauled myself to the eatery just before the evening rush.
One look at my bamboo-like physique and the Kelstar’s manager, Ciaran Kelly, reckoned that most of the pizza would be leaving with me — in a box.
Undeterred by his prediction and with the hunger that comes from having only eaten a Muller fruit corner yoghurt in the previous 24 hours, I bullishly ordered a classic pepperoni. All three and a half square feet of it.
On the menu the £20 leviathan is said to feed between four and six people — or enough food to last me from now until July.
While the dough spinners set about their work upstairs, Ciaran explained that there’s more to making a pizza of such Nolan-esque proportions than simply buying a bigger rolling pin.
The base has to be made slightly thicker than normal to prevent a slice tearing itself apart under its own weight when lifted.
The toppings are also spread slightly more sparingly than on a standard size pizza so as not to overwhelm the diner when eating one of the 13-inch long slices.
Ciaran confided that the Kelstar’s oven could produce a pizza of 36 inches — a yard wide — but they wouldn’t be able to get it safely out the kitchen door.
In about 15 minutes the titan was ready, brought to the table on a massive wooden base that looked as if it had been nicked off Ben Hur’s chariot.
The steaming sea of cheese, dotted with slices of pepperoni, filled the entire two-seat table.
Quickly trying to remember half-forgotten formulas from the distant days of GCSE mathematics, I reckoned it would be the equivalent of eating a bit more than four 12-inch pizzas.
My guts, still badly stretched out of shape after last week’s devouring of a portion of hot wings made with insanely hot Ghost chillies, were giving off noises like a central heating system that badly needs bled.
I noticed that the waitresses had started shaking their heads and had broken into half-smiles in a mixture of humour and pity at what I was about to attempt.
I steeled myself and separated the first slice which first filled one hand, then the other before curling round the end of my fingers like a cheesy cobra.
Negotiating the point of the slice towards my apprehensive gob with all the skill of a poorly trained in-flight refuelling pilot, I took a generous first bite.
The size of the pizza had not diminished the quality; it had a pleasingly light base coated with a moderate layer of mozzarella and a few discs of pepperoni floating on top.
A feeling of confidence began to build — if I could keeping my jaw moving for long enough I might just be able make it through. Then I hit the crust.
Although it was exactly the same sort of crust you would expect to find on any thin base pizza, the sheer amount of it, even on a single slice, knocked my fleeting self-belief for six.
Chewing through the crispier, thicker dough lit up my jaw muscles, which clearly hadn’t recovered from my 68oz steak challenge two weeks ago. ‘Not this madness again,’ they seemed to be saying.
However, I was determined that mere bread and cheese were not going to face me down quite so quickly. I separated slice number two and began doggedly chomping again. When I came to the crust this time the photographer explained his cunning plan to ease the chore of breaking down the edge of the slice.
He said the trick was to dip it in water to soften it up, in the style of competitive eaters in the USA.
But I feared this would result in a cement-like mush clinging to my expansive set of ivories and the prospect of eating cold, soggy bread didn’t exactly win me over.
Buoyed slightly by the growing empty space on the wooden board in front of me, after a quick sip of water I launched in to slice number three, which went down with little argument.
Diners had now arrived at nearby tables and soon noticed the foolish spectacle unfolding before them.
One helpfully remarked: “You’re going to ruin your dinner eating all that.”
Now I could feel my stomach stretching ever outwards with each bite and watched despairingly as my belt buckle vanished out of site and my tie crept upwards on the bulging food baby I had created.
Anyone who has ever seen me eat a hefty meal will have noticed my bizarre tendency to inflate like a pasty faced python who’s attempted to eat the village donkey.
Halfway through slice four my jaw was screaming, the bites I was taking became smaller and the drinks of water more frequent.
I swore I could feel drips of oil running down my forehead and a vein in my left temple began to throb like a kinked garden hose.
Victory seemed impossible. I told myself the best I could do now was make it to the halfway mark, which was still a slice-and-a-half away.
Each bite seemed to take an age and I began to grip the edge of the table. I had to face the undeniable fact that there was just no room left. I would need a shoe horn to fit any more pizza in.
After toying with the final piece of crust from the fifth slice for five minutes, I pushed it in and chewed my last.
Ciaran had the good grace to say I had made it further than he expected, but it did little to ease the sense of a second failure.
I hauled myself to my feet and took a few dizzy steps towards the door with my torso rotating on what felt like a space hopper.
As we were leaving the staff handed me the remains, which filled an entire 16-inch pizza delivery box, but I couldn’t bare to look at it.
Now I know what the man really meant when he said of the birthplace of the famed Italian dish: “See Naples and die.”
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