If you have 100 questions about pizza acrobatics -- think baton twirling with pizza dough -- good news: We did too, so we cornered the LeBron of pizza acrobatics, five-time world champ Tony Gemignani, to talk about one of the shiniest new parts of The Ocho.
ESPN: Like, how did this become a thing?
Gemignani: So in the mid-'80s, they would hold competitions at huge pizza expos -- who can make the biggest pizza, things like that -- and it kind of took off as an event.
So who does this, pizza makers or acrobats?
Everyone is a pizza maker who learns how to do acrobatics. You still have to know how to toss the dough. Sometimes a juggler or a flair bartender tries to compete because they think they can or they're like, "How hard can it be?" It's pretty comical.
Is it actually hard?
Raw dough can rip and change shape and go from round to oblong or whatever. You never know what the dough is going to be like. Imagine doing Frisbee tricks and on every toss you get a different-shaped Frisbee.
Do you bring your own dough?
Yes! You can use the dough they have or you can bring your own. That's key. You can absolutely tweak the dough to make it stronger: high gluten, protein flour, triple the salt, no yeast so it's not too soft. You do what you can to get an edge.
How many pizza doughs do you have for a routine?
Ten to 12.
How long is a routine?
Usually two to three minutes.
Music of choice?
I always liked something fast -- "Wipe Out," the theme from "Mission: Impossible," "I'm All Shook Up." Classic songs with high energy.
Pizza industry people. Former competitors. You're judged on dexterity, creativity and showmanship. So you've gotta think like an entertainer. Work the crowd. Play to the judges. Make it fun and keep it tight.
Have the pizza acrobatics evolved?
Definitely. I would compare it to dunk contests from the '80s to dunk contests now. Everyone's gotten better. You can go on YouTube and watch how everybody does things and develop new, slicker tricks.
So there's a trick named after you.
Yes, the Gemignani. I perfected being able to roll two doughs across my shoulders simultaneously.
How often did you practice?
I would really practice heavily before a competition. There are rubber doughs to use for practice. But in my opinion, you need to practice with the real thing.
Is there a strategy?
For sure. Some guys try to bust out their best trick right off the bat. In my opinion, save it until the end. Finish strong.
Why don't you compete anymore?
After I won my fifth title, I was basically told I couldn't compete anymore. It's OK. I'm busy.
You have restaurants, a cooking school, books, videos, clothing. Pizza is pretty much your life.
I've been making pizza for 30 years. I've always believed you've got to think outside of the box -- the pizza box.