An internationally known authority on pizza, Northern California native Tony Gemignani is a master pizza maker, owns 17 restaurants and a pizza school and holds world championship titles for one of America’s most beloved foods.
• Owns 17 restaurants, including Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Tony’s Coal Fired Pizza & Slice House and Capo’s in San Francisco and the Bay area and Pizza Rock in Sacramento, California
• Master certification from the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli
• Owner and master instructor of the International School of Pizza in San Francisco, which certifies chefs from around the world
• 12-time world pizza champion, including competitions in Naples, Rome and Las Vegas, Food Network Gold Medalist and Triple Crown winner
• Mentored by his grandfather, Frank Gemignani, who was a farmer
• Named U.S. Ambassador of Neapolitan Pizza by the City of Naples, Italy
• Author of “The Pizza Bible” (Ten Speed, 2014), “Tony & The Pizza Champions” (Chronicle, 2009) and“Pizza: More than 60 Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pizza” (Chronicle, 2005)
• Inducted in the “Guinness World Records” twice for creating the largest pizza, and for the most consecutive pizza dough rolls across the shoulders, a unique throwing trick
• Fitness routine includes regular workouts at the gym, at least four times weekly.
The Quest for Pizza Perfection
A third-generation Italian, Tony Gemignani grew up on his grandfather’s apricot and cherry farm in California, watching his mom cook Italian classics while knocking out his homework at the kitchen table.
When he decided to work at his brother’s pizzeria after graduating high school, tying on his own set of apron strings felt like familiar territory.
“I had always had a passion for pizza, but I fell in love with pizza-making right away at Pyzano’s,” Gemignani says. “I realized it was my calling.”
He took on the role of pizza thrower, drawing crowds by acrobatically flipping the fresh dough off his foot, through his legs, behind his back and across his shoulders. His talent for spinning dough (sometimes blindfolded) landed him a spot on the “Tonight Show” and earned him national and world championship titles.
As Gemignani traveled across the country for competitions and appearances, he tasted and studied regional pizzas. He re-created these variations back home, from the thin-crust pies of Brooklyn, New York, to the iconic deep-dish pizzas of Chicago.
“At that point, I’d been in business for a while and thought I knew everything,” he says. Yet nine years after stepping into his brother’s pizzeria, Gemignani took a trip to Italy that shook his confidence and took his pizza obsession to a new level.
While honeymooning in Italy, he and his wife passed through Naples, the birthplace of pizza. They dined at several famous pizzerias, including Trianon da Circo, which has been serving pizza made from the same recipes since the 1920s.
“They set this margherita pizza in front of me—like a 90-second bake from the wood-fire oven—charred and wet, with sun-ripened tomatoes and fresh mozzarella,” he says. “I was beside myself. So good and so simple but so complex. I had this epiphany…it dawned on me that I knew nothing, that I didn’t really know how to make a true Napolitano pizza.”
He spent the remainder of the meal alternating between silently savoring and talking about the pizza. “My wife gave me such a look.”
Back stateside, Gemignani embarked on a “journey of becoming better.” He turned his attention to old-school techniques, devouring technical baking books and researching ingredients, like which ratios of imported flours would yield the best dough. He installed a small wood-burning oven in his backyard and churned through pie after pie, on a personal quest to master the Napolitano pizza. “For years I did it on my own, with a lot of trial and error,” he says.
While his acrobatic showmanship retreated into the background, Gemignani’s competitive spirit did not. In 2007, he returned to Naples and won the top honor in the Neapolitan pizza competition with a recipe and techniques authentic enough to beat third-generation pizzaioli.
It wasn’t just his tradition-focused, ingredient-obsessed mindset that had changed since his honeymoon. This visit, Gemignani sported a new tattoo across his hand.
It reads: “Respect the craft.”
Tony Gemignaniis also part of Simple Feast, an app the hosts an amazing community of Chefs and their delicious recipes. To view more recipes by Tony and other incredible Chefs go to Simple Feast.