Pizzas and Pizazz

Jimi Hendrix had his guitar and Pele had his football. Pasqualino Barbasso has a lump of dough.

Written by Shantanu David | Published: May 13, 2012 2:44 am

Jimi Hendrix had his guitar and Pele had his football. Pasqualino Barbasso has a lump of dough. Under the 38-year old’s dexterous fingers,however,the misshapen lump transforms suddenly,or shall we say magically,into a spinning disc. Clouds of flour fly off the whirling base in perfect accordance with the laws of centrifugal force.

Barbasso smiles shyly as the dough rotates into a thinner and rounder disc,seemingly by itself. The pizza base dances in the air — straight,sideways,on its axis — and Barbasso’s hands are constantly in motion. He nonchalantly tosses it from one hand to the other,over and behind his shoulders,and back. His grin widens as he picks up another lump with one free hand and lo,now there are two dancing discs in the place of one.

Barbasso is no ordinary pizzaiolo (traditional pizza-maker). A native of Sicily,Barbasso grew up in close contact with the classical Italian dish. His family owned Il Falco Azzuro,a pizzeria they still run and Barbasso still works in when he’s not juggling dough around the world. “I was first attracted to the art of pizza acrobatics when I saw an acrobatic pizza-maker in Italy for the first time. I loved it and wanted to pursue it,as well as improve my traditional pizza-making skills,” he tries to explain in whatever little English he could speak. “I learned this fascinating art from an Italian pizza school and have been doing it for 14 years now,” he adds.

Barbasso has come a long way since then. In 1998,he won his first accolade — Sicily’s Acrobatic Pizza championship. In 2001,he was declared the World Champion in pizza acrobatics,a feat that he repeated in 2002.

That aside,Barbasso is very clear about his duties as a chef. “All art forms require diligent practice to achieve perfection. The same goes for pizza acrobatics. Since I am always around the world showcasing my pizza acrobatic skills,it does require practice. But of course,I am a chef and it is also important to make good pizza,which is what people expect when they come to my pizzeria. Once that is done,I claim my show,” he confides.

His commitment and the hours of practice are evident as Barbasso moves into the final leg of his performance.

He starts break-dancing,the pizza base continuing to dance on his fingertips even as he twists around the floor. And while Barbasso might not be the greatest break-dancer around,it’s easy to see why he is the one of the best pizza acrobats in the world.

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