Meet Tony Gemignani, Pizza Champion & Chef
Pizza Chef & Champion Tony Gemignani discusses his love for pizza and his path to pizza success
At an Italian pizza festival you can be assured to find 3 things: pizza, Italians and… some of the best pizza chefs of all time. At one of those gatherings back in May, we met 12-time world pizza champion Tony Gemignani.
How do you know it’s him? You can spot him anywhere in the crowd with his trademark baffi, i.e. moustache, his iconic smile, his tricolore green & white & red scarf around his neck, his tattooed forearms and his beautiful wife by his side. Ain’t this the perfect picture of an Italian pizzaiolo?
We wanted to know more, so we started to chitchat, talking about pomodori, sauces, flour, yeast, dough and different styles, deep-dish vs thin crust vs Neapolitan pizza vs Chicago vs New York… If you love pizza—and you do—keep on reading.
1) Who is Tony Gemignani?
I’m from San Francisco, California, 12-time world pizza champion, owner of about 22 restaurants in San Francisco and Las Vegas. I’m also an instructor at the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli, one of the oldest schools in Italy, and I run The International School of Pizza in San Francisco where I certify about 36 chefs a year in pizza. What else… I’m a cook, a chef, husband, and father. And possibly a grandfather.
2) What sparked your love for pizza?
The first time I remember having pizza was with my grandpa, Frank. He was an Italian farmer, my family’s originally a small village called Gombitelli near Lucca. My grandfather was a big Italian farmer. We had apricots, cherries, fava beans, basil, tomatoes, you name it. Growing up, there was a little pizzeria down the street called Uncle Joe’s, and after my first slice I know it was the greatest thing in my life, I’ll never forget it.
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3) How did you get started?
My brother Frank got me into the business. I was 17 and in high school I took a lot of home chef courses because my mom was an amazing cook and I wanted to learn some recipes. Frank wanted to open a pizzeria and asked me to go with him. I was happy to make people happy, to make good pizza from fresh ingredients, but I wanted to make it better. I practiced like a lot and I’m still learning, for me it’s important to keep an open mind.
4) What is pizza for you?
When it comes to pizza it’s always about balance, it’s about the simplicity of pizza, but the complexity of not over complex dough and not over complex ingredients. Some people may say, did the U.S. screw up pizza? In a way we did, we made it into a business but at the same time fast was better, quicker in delivery, and Americans started to love that about pizza. For me a good pizza has something more, I’m just trying to reintroduce pizza in the U.S. to what its origins were.
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5) What’s good about your pizza?
I go down an authentic route, focusing on very good ingredients, good cheese, flour, olive oil and tomatoes, but always adding a little twist that could make it better or come out a little stronger. I can’t say that I love New York and hate Chicago, or that I love Neapolitan and hate Roman. If pizza is done right, it’s great and if it’s done wrong, it sucks.
I have multiple ovens, multiple forms. It’s not always about making the best pizza, it’s about understanding how dough develops, how it works, how yeast feeds on simple sugars, how you let your dough mature right, it’s not always about the best pizza. I take my time to make it, it’s not Picasso where it’s all over the place. I’m making pizza for somebody who waited an hour and a half to get in my pizzeria. Is it wrong? No? Shut up.
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6) Are you working on something new these days?
There’s a new style we’re going to introduce that is unique. I was in Italy with a team of pizzamakers and I saw this guy doing a blend of black rice flour blended into a dough. That excited me, because it’s a new style, nobody has the flour yet. We’ll be the first ones to launch this.
I always say old dough is better than young dough, it’s more digestible. There’s a method now of mixing dough and cooking it within five hours, and it feels like a dough that you’ve let rise for 72 hours. This whole technique, it’s a new method and it’s unique, and I don’t know that many people do this method anywhere. That’s super-exciting. We’re launching it at Tony’s Pizza Rock and we’re going to launch it at the las Vegas Pizza Expo next year and it’s going to be a hot new thing.
Photos by Raffaele Asquer and Roberto Croci for Foodiamo. All rights reserved. Cover photo: Tony Gemignani and his wife at A Tutta Pizza Fest in Los Angeles