A slice of Naples in Lancashire: North West mozzarella maestra wins Pizza Chef of the Year

A Lancashire chef who traded claims for calzones after giving up her career in insurance to start her own pizzeria has been named Pizza Chef of the Year.

As part of the National Pizza Week celebrations, which took place last week, Ormskirk-based Nicola Jackson-Jones of Two Cents Pizza emerged with her flour-flecked fingers on the prestigious gong at the annual Pizza, Pasta & Italian Food Industry (PAPA) Awards.

“I'm the Pizza, Pasta & Italian Food Association Pizza Chef of the Year! I still can't believe it,” said Nicola on Instagram. “Lots of thanks to Marco Fuso for teaching me everything I know, Rich at Dough and Behold for being the ultimate plus-one, Dan (aka MozzaFella) and Faye Hall - I had such a great time with you guys - and Ooni for the love and support and great pizza kit.

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“[Thanks] to all my pizza pals - there are too many to mention, but you guys are the best friends I could ask for - and, as always, the biggest thanks to Mrs Two Cents for always believing in me,” she continued. “Oh, and my lovely mum, who’s always up for a slice or two!”

Nicola Jackson-Jones of Two Cents Pizza

Despite having never previously having made a pizza from scratch, Nicola took the passata-plunge to open Two Cents in 2018 out of a desire to work in a dream job rather than a desk job, but openly admits that her first few attempts were ‘awful’.

Armed with a newly-purchased pizza oven and a passion, she soon honed her skills, however, opened Two Cents just eight months before the pandemic struck. Swift to adapt, Nicola teamed up with a local taxi driver to deliver pizzas during lockdown.

Just three years after opening her doors, Nicola’s wondrous dough-and-mozzarella creations saw her make finals of the PAPA Awards where she received a ‘highly commended’ accolade. This year, after taking the tough decision to close the bricks-and-mortar restaurant in May in favour of starting her own luxury mobile catering service operating out of a converted horse box, she went one better.

Now allowed more creative freedom to pursue a new challenge, Nicola has thrived, impressing a litany of high-profile judges including celebrity chef Theo Randall, restaurateur Enzo Oliveri, and pizza chef Marco Fuso with creations such as the ‘Cheesy and Onion’ and the ‘Triple Pep’.

Nicola's Triple Pep

“Winners are judged on innovation, commercial viability, and - of course - taste across three categories, with one overall winner taking the title of Pizza Chef of the Year,” says Jim Winship, director at PAPA, which represents the interests of all those businesses involved with the Italian food industry. “This year, the standards were extremely high, but the judges were particularly impressed by Nicola’s creative skills.

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“[She won] two categories as well as the overall Pizza Chef of the Year title,” he adds, with the awards honouring one of the nation’s favourite foods, celebrating pizza in all its cheesy, gooey glory. “The PAPA Awards is a calendar moment we all look forward to each year: a time when we’re always surprised and delighted by the creativity of the entrants.”

Nicola's award-winning Cheesy and Onion