A PUB company’s ‘pizza maestro’ is one of 16 finalists from over 200 entries at this year’s National Pizza Awards.

Oakman Inns runs The Crown & Thistle in Abingdon, The Blue Boar in Witney and The Old Post Office in Wallingford.

Alex Balan is responsible for training the company’s pizza chef brigade of over 30 using the Esposito 75 recipe.

This combines slow-proved dough and traditional Neapolitan ingredients and tonight Mr Balan is hoping to win one of the awards from the three prized titles: Best Technical Pizza; Pizza Chef of the Year and National Pizza of the Year.

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He has worked for Oakman Inns for over four years and has been a leading pizza chef for over 10.

The competition,being staged in London, consists of two rounds.

The first is a technical challenge where each contestant is given 40 minutes to prepare two pizzas using specific ingredients supplied by the event’s sponsors. For the second round, also lasting 40 minutes, the chefs will be asked to produce two examples of their own signature recipe that they submitted with their entry.


Mr Balan said: “I feel very proud to be representing Oakman Inns at the awards. I’ve been working with our head chefs on refining our Esposito 75 Neapolitan pizza recipes and I feel as though I’m representing all the great staff who work for us and who make some of the best, traditional pizzas I’ve ever tasted.

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“Of course I’m nervous but I’ve been practising for both rounds over the last few weeks and my brigade are being very supportive too. One of the challenges for me will be cooking with a gas oven rather than a traditional wood-fired one, but the sponsors have been giving me some useful advice and access to the models we’ll be using on the day.”

The chef’s signature recipe, which he’ll be cooking in round two, is Napoli Forte - which, in line with the heat of the wood-fired pizza oven, includes among its ingredients spicy Nduja sausage, and traditional Neapolitan pizza ingredients including Napoli salami, chilli, garlic, and tomatoes and Fior di Latte mozzarella cheese, sourced from Naples.

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Oakman Inns’ chef director Ross Pike and Mr Balan believe they have perfected an award-winning recipe for their pizza dough, which is slow-proved for a minimum of 48 hours to create a crispy base with a lighter, more risen, blackened but not burnt crust.


The National Pizza Awards’ judging panel of leading industry experts will mark on taste, texture, appearance and creativity.

Oakman Inns has almost completed its programme of installing traditional stone-floored, wood-fired ovens across its 24 pubs, serving pizzas in 11 regions.

The National Pizza Awards final takes place at Islington Metal Works and the Best Technical Pizza, Pizza Chef of the Year and National Pizza of the Year winners are expected to be announced on the night.


Earlier this year the pub company was awarded a Three Star accreditation in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For for the fourth year running.

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It came 25th in the list of best mid-size companies to work for in the country.

The award signifies ‘extraordinary levels of workplace engagement’.