If you have ever asked for recommendations of a good pizza in San Francisco, you already heard of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. In the heart of North Beach, the Italian neighborhood, Tony’s Pizza is the place to go for pizza-lovers.
In the past, you probably already found – somewhere in the world – a place named Neapolitan Pizza or Pizza Napoletana that disappointed you because of its not-really-Italian style, but in San Francisco you will find an 11-time World Champion Pizza maker: Tony Gemignani.
We were lucky enough to interview him at Eat Drink SF, and it was a pleasure to speak with him.
Tony can claim to be the first non-Neapolitan to win the World Championship of Pizza Makers in Naples in 2011. As you can read on his Wikipedia page, they didn’t take it too well and he had to be escorted out of the competition by the police.
Some of the world championships he won are for pizza acrobatics. If you don’t know what we are talking about, just take a look at this video:
Tony holds two Guinness World Records, both obtained in 2006:
- Largest pizza base spun in two minutes = 36.5 inches
- Most Consecutive Rolls Across the Shoulders in 30 seconds = 37 times
As every Italian, he’s probably a bit superstitious and he even brought into his restaurant Cirigliano Wood Burning, the oven he used when he won the World Championship in Naples.
In addition to these achievements, Tony is a successful entrepreneur: he owns 13 restaurants, started two international Schools of Pizza, and published three books, including The Pizza Bible: The World’s Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neapolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit, and more.
After talking for two minutes, Tony and I already found a connection: he has some relatives in a small town near Lucca, where I’ve been working for a couple of years before moving to the United States.
Since we didn’t have much time, I went straight to ask about his favorite wines: the answer was Gragnano, Prosecco, and Lambrusco. If you are not familiar with the first one, Gragnano is a small town in the Sorrento Peninsula near Naples and the wine has a slight effervescence, which is a common factor among all these three wines. When you are eating pizza, effervescence counterbalances the fattiness of oil and cheese.
After that, Tony told me that Tony’s Pizza Napoletana was just recognized with Wine Spectator’s “2015 Award of Excellence” for its Wine program. It’s a great achievement that complements all the awards already received for the pizza and the quality of the ingredients. And it gives you another reason to have a dinner at Tony’s.
After covering the wine topics, we switched the topic to pizza. First some stats: Tony’s Pizza Napoletana has 7 ovens, hand-tosses 1,100 pizza doughs per day, and the top selling pizza is Margherita (I liked this fact because when I try a new pizzeria, I always want to have a Margherita the first time).
Before closing the interview, I asked an advice on how to make pizza at home. Tony immediately stressed the importance of using the right flour: few people think about it, but when you are cooking at home your oven can’t reach the same temperature of a professional oven (500 F vs 900 F). At home, you should always consider using flour that is high in proteins and gluten, and aim to have a bit of sugar in it, which will help reach the nice browny effect.
Can you roll your pizza around your shoulders like Tony? If so, you have to share a video, otherwise we won’t believe you!
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