No, the pizza dough being tossed high up in the air on stage won’t end up on your plate if you’re dining at Mercato this week.
That disc of flying dough is just part of a show by seasoned pizzaiolos (Italian for ‘pizza makers’) from the Italian National Team of Acrobatic Pizza Makers.
The three pizzaiolos, who between them share more than 50 years of experience in pizza acrobatics, have been invited to Dubai by theatre company, Saltimbanco Italiano, as part of the 20th edition of the Dubai Shopping Festival.
From spinning the pizza dough on one finger and tossing it up in the air to letting it glide over their shoulders, the trio has many pizza tricks up their sleeve.
“Pizza acrobatics started as a game,” says Danilo Pagano, a certified pizzaiolo and founder of the team with more than 30 years of experience in pizza acrobatics. “When we were making pizza in the pizzeria, we started doing some acrobatics with the dough. And then we saw the customers enjoying what we were doing.”
Although no one knows exactly when the discipline began and who officially started it, Pagano said he went on to encourage his friends to formally organise themselves as a national team of pizzaiolos in 1990.
Like most Italian pizza makers, Pagano began making pizzas at the age of 14 at his father’s pizzeria.
While the key to a good pizza is having well-kneaded dough, Pagano said the secret to pizza acrobatics is enjoying the act itself along with the music.
“[Pizzaiolos] need to enjoy [the acrobatics] while doing them and to follow the rhythm of the music. Remember, it’s all up to the dough, not up to us. You have to handle the dough with care but with speed, because it breaks easily,” Pagano explains.
“Sometimes, the dough can do very well and we can work on it for 20 minutes. But sometimes, because of too much water or too much air-conditioning in the mall or whatever, the dough becomes difficult to work with.”
For two-time world pizza champion Alessandro Gullotto, whose speciality is making a flower pizza or pizza shaped as a flower, it takes two things: “The secret is passion and sacrifice. You can’t afford to go on night-outs with your friends because you have to train hard,” says Gullotto.
Alessandro Coluccino, a national champion and self-taught pizzaiolo at 27, agrees.
“I started pizza acrobatics when I was 23. The first three years, I was training for five to six hours per day. Now I have less time to train because of the shows. But the shows are like training as well,” Coluccino says. Because the dough in itself could be tough sometimes, the tossing and turning and spinning requires a lot of energy, and in turn, helps the pizzaiolos burn a lot of calories.
“Pizza acrobatics may only take 15 to 20 minutes but because I’m following the music and concentrating, the mind and the body work together [as if you’re doing aerobics],” Pagano says, adding, “I sweat more when doing pizza acrobatics than when I go to the gym for two hours.”
Pizza acrobatics are famous and not just in Italy, where the popular pan pizza originated. Just like how the rest of the world fell in love with this flat bread, many countries have also embraced the discipline of pizza acrobatics. In fact, every year, a world pizza championship takes place to declare the greatest pizza acrobat.
However, if you’re wondering if the pizza maker played with your dough before it got served to you, relax. Pizzaiolos only play with dough that doesn’t have yeast in it so it can be workable. The pizza you eat is kneaded normally at the store and made especially for you.
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