White tablecloths, red-and-white checked napkins, and old-style Italian music transformed The Key Room in Novato into a pizza parlor to set the stage for pizza master Tony Gemignani at Fresh Starts Chef Events.
Expertly tossing and twirling a ball of dough, Chef Tony opened by talking about growing up on a farm in Fremont and working at his brother’s pizza restaurant, Pyzano’s in Castro Valley. In the pizza business for 25 years, Chef Tony said, “It’s all about the dough,” and that getting it right is “one of the biggest challenges.” His motto: “Respect the craft.”
Not content with being the 11-time pizza-tossing world champion, Chef Tony shifted his focus to creating extraordinary pies. His push to “always make it better” led to wins at the International Pizza Championships and becoming the first U.S. chef crowned World Champion Pizza Maker in Italy in 2007. He admits, “I’m competitive.”
Now the owner of 10 restaurants, Chef Tony thrives in the competitive arena of business. Though advised against installing seven different ovens at the flagship Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco to accommodate different styles of pizza, he persevered and the restaurant is hugely successful.
Chef Tony has an uncommon profile as a pizza maker because he’s expert with regional styles — Neapolitan, Sicilian, Roman, New York, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis—and the types of flours and starters to make them. At Fresh Starts Chef Events, he demonstrated New York, West Coast and Sicilian.
“Flour is the heart and soul of pizza” and “water is the key,” he says, stressing the absolute importance of measuring ingredients for pizza dough.” He’s particular about varieties of flour, tomatoes, cheeses, and timing; his recipes vary in the type of starter made for the dough, which he mixes up to 48 hours in advance.
A remarkable multi-tasker, Chef Tony arrived hours before the event to work on his dough with the Fresh Starts Culinary Academy students who made his recipes for guests.
During the event, he explained his craft, answered audience questions, talked about the pizza he was making, and ran back and forth to the oven to check pizza in progress. He advises using two pans or pizza stones while cooking—one higher in the oven to crisp the crust, one lower to ensure the top is cooked.
Fresh Starts Chef Events’ premier sponsor, The Republic of Tea, provided White Hibiscus Passion Fruit iced tea and Hibiscus iced tea for each table. Guests left with pages of recipes for dough and toppings; many took home the chef’s engrossing book, “The Pizza Bible.”
It’s safe to say most will never be satisfied with a frozen grocery store pizza again. You can do your own taste test when you try Chef Tony’s recipe for Master Dough. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.
Master Dough for Pizza – Makes enough for 2 pies
2.2 grams (3/4 teaspoon) active dry yeast
70 grams (1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) warm water (80°F to 85°F)
453 grams (3½ cups) flour, with 13 to 14 percent protein, preferably All Trumps, Pendleton Flour Mills Power, Giusto’s High Performer, King Arthur Sir Lancelot Unbleached Hi-Gluten, or Tony’s California Artisan Flour
10 grams (1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon) diastatic malt
210 grams (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) ice water, plus more as needed
90 grams Tiga starter (recipe below)
10 grams (2 teaspoons) fine sea salt
5 grams (1 teaspoon) extra virgin olive oil
Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the warm water, and whisk vigorously for 30 seconds. The yeast should dissolve in the water and the mixture should foam. If it doesn’t and the yeast granules float, the yeast is “dead” and should be discarded. Begin again with a fresh amount of yeast and water.
Combine the flour and malt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
With the mixer running on the lowest speed, pour in most of the icewater, reserving about 2 tablespoons, followed by the yeast-water mixture. Pour the reserved water into the yeast bowl, swirl it around to dislodge any bits of yeast stuck to the bowl, and add to the mixer. Mix for about 15 seconds, stop the mixer, and add the Poolish or Tiga.
Continue to mix the dough at the lowest speed for about 1 minute, until most of the dough comes together around the hook. Stop the mixer. Use your fingers to pull away any dough clinging to the hook, and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a bowl scraper or rubber spatula. Check the bottom of the bowl for any unincorporated flour. Turn the dough over and press it into the bottom of the bowl to pick up any stray pieces. If the dough isn’t holding together, add small amounts of water (about 1/2 teaspoon to start) and mix until the dough is no longer dry and holds together.
Add the salt and mix on the lowest speed for 1 minute to combine.
Stop the mixer, pull the dough off the hook, and add the oil. Mix the dough for 1 to 2 minutes, stopping the mixer from time to time to pull the dough off the hook and scrape down the sides of the bowl, until all of the oil is absorbed. The dough won’t look completely smooth.
Use a bowl scraper to transfer the dough to an unfloured work surface, then knead it for 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth. Cover the dough with a damp dish towel and let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Use the dough cutter to loosen the dough and to cut it in half. Weigh the dough, adjusting the quantity as necessary to give you two 13-ounce pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Any remaining dough can be discarded.
Form the dough into balls. Set the balls on a half sheet pan, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Or, if you will be baking the balls on different days, place each ball on a quarter sheet pan. Wrap the pan(s) airtight with a double layer of plastic wrap, sealing the wrap well under the pan(s). Put the pan(s) in a level spot in the refrigerator and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
For the Tiga starter:
0.14 gram (one-third of 1/8 teaspoon) active dry yeast or 0.42 gram fresh yeast, broken into small pieces
39 grams (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) cold tap water
55 grams (1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons) flour used in dough recipe
Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water, and whisk vigorously for 30 seconds. The mixture should bubble on top. If it doesn’t and the yeast granules float, the yeast is “dead” and should be discarded. Begin again with a fresh amount of yeast and water.
Add the flour and stir well with a rubber spatula to combine. The consistency will be quite thick.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature for 18 hours. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to cool slightly before using.
If you are not using the starter right away, you can store it in the refrigerator, though I suggest keeping it for no more than 8 hours. Bring it to cool room temperature before using.