Have a blast learning a pizzeria pro’s secrets

Tony Gemignani throws pizza dough like a Harlem Globetrotter works a basketball. He can propel a wheel of dough across his shoulders and spin two rounds at a time, as well as toss and catch them blindfolded.

Tony started developing his technique in 1991, when he and his brother, Frank, opened Pyzano’s Pizzeria in Castro Valley, California. To entertain children at the restaurant, Tony started tossing the dough and doing daring tricks with it. He was a natural. When he entered the World Pizza Games in Las Vegas, he won first place three years running.

Then he tackled the World Pizza Championship in Italy. Initially the Italians were dubious that anyone from America could present a serious challenge, but after Tony took the top prize two years in a row, they asked him to be a judge. Now he coaches the U.S. team.

Tony’s tossing tips: The setup

1. Remove your watch and any rings you’re wearing.

2. Place the dough slightly off-center on the palm of your throwing hand (generally, if you’re comfortable spinning the dough counterclockwise, use your right hand; for spinning clockwise, use your left).

3. Make a fist with the other hand, knuckle side up, and place it under the dough, beside your throwing hand, to support the other side.

4. Hold the dough parallel to the ground, between your waist and chest.

The release

5. Turn the palm of your throwing hand toward you, then quickly twist your hand outward and up to launch the dough into the air.

6. Catch the round with both fists, knuckles up.

7. Toss with fast, deliberate moves; if you’re tentative and slow, the dough will be more likely to flop over or droop.

Don’t get discouraged!

In our Test Kitchen, a little practice produced amazing results (and a lot of laughs).

“Tossing the dough creates a crust naturally,” Tony says. “As you spin the dough in the air, it dries, so it will be crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle.”

There are several other critical steps in Tony’s dough-making process, some of which actually make his pizza handy to produce for a party.

He uses a high-protein, high-gluten flour for strong structure (which makes the dough very easy to handle), good browning, and deep flavor.

He wakes the yeast up with warm water, then calms it down with ice-cold water so the dough can rise gradually in the refrigerator overnight and produce consistent results under varied conditions. The sauced rounds can even sit for a few hours before being baked, so it’s not a problem if you have only one oven.

One or two days before your party, mix up the easy sauce and dough (make extra dough, in case some lands on the floor).

When your guests arrive, toss the dough and assemble the pizzas―it’s fun to do as a group. And if you’re a bit of a klutz and flunk the tossing test, you can still make extraordinary crusts by just stretching the dough to size.

To schedule a session with Tony Gemignani, call Pyzano’s Pizzeria (510/881-8878). Visit www.uspizzateam.com for more.