Dear Pizza People
I thought you might enjoy this good news about Tony, east bay pizzaria operator, winning the coveted prize. Excuse me if this is common knowledge. From sfgate.com.
The Bay Area's own Tony Gemignani went to Naples, the birthplace of pizza, and came home the world champion Neapolitan pizza maker - beating every Italian contender in the very city where pizza was born.
But he still can't make his championship thin-crust margherita pie at his own Castro Valley pizzeria, Pyzano's, which he runs with his brother, Frank (or at their Spin Gourmet Pizza nightspot in Walnut Creek).
They make lots of pizzas - New York, Californian and their own fully loaded American-style Pyzano's pie - but not the Neapolitan.
That's because Pyzano's doesn't have a wood-fired oven, the only kind that gets hot enough - 900 degrees - to give Neapolitan pizza its classic blister and char. Like many urban areas, Alameda County restricts wood ovens to cut pollution.
In Pyzano's gas oven, which tops out at around 600 degrees, Gemignani's margherita bakes to a golden crispness. It's delicious - but not what Naples has in mind when it comes to pizza.
"We always wanted a wood-fired oven," Gemignani told me. And now, he hopes his upstart win may allow that to happen.
Over samples of his various pizzas - all have different crusts, made from different flours and recipes - Gemignani relived his day at the Trofeo Citta de Napoli Championato Internationale per Pizzaioli in June.
"It was a big win," he said. "People are comparing it to Stag's Leap (Wine Cellars) going to Paris," and beating the best French Bordeaux makers in the 1976 tasting that put California Cabernet Sauvignon on the map.
Until that day, Gemignani's claim to fame came as a pizza acrobat, winning eight championships for feats like spinning a disk of dough to 33.2 inches in just two minutes and rolling stretched pizza dough across his shoulders 37 times in a row. He's appeared on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show," and is a Food Network regular with Emeril and Rachael Ray.
A couple of years ago, Gemignani hit his 30s and realized he was becoming the old man of the acrobatic world, so he decided to focus his competitive energies on baking. He flew to Italy to earn his certification as a pizzaiolo, or pizza maker. Italy takes its pizza seriously - the rules for making a Neapolitan pizza run to five single-spaced pages.
He installed a small portable Bee Hive wood oven in his Castro Valley backyard and started baking, with his Sicilian-born wife Julie serving as guinea pig and critic.
Hundreds of pizzas later, they headed to Naples for the two-day event in June. This was just the second year that the Naples trophy championship has been held.
Gemignani was one of 12 Americans among the almost 50 contestants. None of them was expected to win - especially not someone from California, where great pizza is notoriously tough to find, and where non-classic ingredients like figs, lamb and smoked salmon might show up as toppings.
When Gemignani showed up with his dough, tomato sauce, basil and salt in wooden bowls and trays, one young Italian pizza maker commented derisively, "You could tell him we have stainless steel now."
Before the day was out, the joke was on the young Italian.
Gemignani showed me exactly what he did, before the sharp eyes of the Italian judges.
His crust is made with just flour, water and salt - and the flour must be the "double zero" kind, meaning it's low-protein and low-gluten. In a few deft gestures, he stretched it to 13 inches, leaving a thicker edge at the center; it can be no thicker than about one-tenth of an inch.
He seeded San Marzano tomatoes and added salt for a simple sauce, spread on in the required spiral motion. Fresh mozzarella, a little basil, a swirl of olive oil - that's it. The ingredients must be at room temperature, which is why he uses wood; stainless steel feels colder.
"It's really back to the basics of the way pizza was traditionally made," he says.
Once in the oven, the pie got a quarter turn every 15 seconds; 80 seconds later it was done - and a winner.
Afterward, the Italian contenders sat him down and demanded to know: "Who taught you?" He told them that although he learned basic pizza-making in Italy, he taught himself the Naples way.
Now, the Gemignanis are hoping they'll finally be able to bake Tony's champion pizza back home. Because of his win, the VPN - the Associazione della Verace Pizza Napoletana, or association of true Neapolitan pizza - has authorized him to open a pizza school in Castro Valley.
The Gemignani brothers plan to open a restaurant and school in downtown Castro Valley, if they can talk their local government into letting them fire up a wood-burning oven during certain hours of the week.
If that happens, they hope to start construction late this before year and move from their current location in a strip mall near Interstate 580.
But Tony Gemignani isn't waiting around. He's already found a supplier for the San Felice flour he used in the competition, and has brought in 30 55-pound bags - enough for 6,000 pizzas. And he's got a permit to bring a wood-fired oven to the parking lot outside Pyzano's for one day, Oct. 20.
For $17.95 a pie, the Bay Area will finally get the world's best Neapolitan pizza - without ever leaving home.
Pyzano's Pizzeria, 3835 E. Castro Valley Blvd. (in the 580 Marketplace mall), Castro Valley; (510) 881-8878 or pyzanospizzeria.com