This pizza acrobat likes to spin dough up in the air to Armin van Buuren!
Pasqualino Barbasso likes to spin pizza dough to the electro beats of Armin van Buuren. And the Sicilian who is a grandfather of three tells us that on a good day, his acrobatics can whip up a massive two metres of dough that he bestows on a lucky member of the crowd as an ‘apron’ before they sit down to eat. It’s no wonder that this chef won the world championships in pizza acrobatics not once, but twice in 2001 and 2002. Ahead of his first visit to Chennai, we got chatting with the 45-year-old chef and incidentally CEO of a pizza school back home, about the art of the perfect spin, recipes and perhaps adding South Indian idlis to his up-in-the-air antics. Excerpts:
Do you remember why you started experimenting with pizza acrobatics back in your 20s? Was there a song playing at your pizzeria or did someone challenge you to a game of truth or dare?
I started just to improve my professional level. When you work with passion it’s normal to have this desire. At the same time, I needed something that didn’t bore me in the kitchen. I think it was a good intuition.
What are some pointers to keep in mind for a beginner pizza acrobat? And how fast can this skill be picked up?
Lots of people contact me, asking how to start with acrobatic pizza, and the first thing that I tell them is: don’t forget that people come to the restaurant to eat good food, so never start with acrobatic skills if you are not yet able to prepare a good pizza, after that you can start with acrobatic pizza. In a few months you will be able to spin pizza, but to be fast and spectacular, you need lot of daily training.
Are you doing a session where customers can walk in and try a hand at spinning dough?
Absolutely! At Hyatt Regency Chennai, we will be organising cooking classes where customers can learn how to prepare pizza and why not try to spin the dough? It will be a funny experience!
We read that you like to treat your dough like a pretty lady, delicately, with care. Tell us more.
In India, rumours circulate so fast! I meant that the pizza dough is very delicate, if you do not handle with due care you may get a bad pizza, you can lose all fermentation products with irreversible damages while cooking, and digestibility of the pizza.
Which ingredient helps with dough elasticity?
The most important thing is to use a high gluten flour, like manitoba, then add a lot of salt because that makes the dough strong.
We also hear that there is a synthetic dough that is becoming a rage now because of its elasticity, and also the fact that it glows in the dark. Are you on board with this trend?
Yes, there is a rubber pizza. I use it just during the training sessions because it is too difficult learn immediately with real dough. But when you talk about a pizza show, I think it is not professional to perform with a fake pizza.
Now that it’s been over a decade — are there new routines that you have woven into the mix...
It has been 15 years exactly, and I change my show based on the different situations and customers that I find in the restaurant. I always use Italian music, it is important to create an Italian atmosphere, five-star hotels invite me mainly because of this.
We know that DJing was your first love. What’s your favourite song to get spinning to?
My favourite artiste is Armin Van Buuren, so when it is possible, I love to spin with a good electro song.
Dough you know?
Over the years, chef Pasqualino Barbasso has developed the perfect recipe for dough that is light enough to spin, but not too slippery so as to land on the floor. It’s the recipe that he has been using since his first pizza show all the way back in his 20s. And here it is. The chef says he is happy to share, but does offer us one tip. Since salt is a key ingredient in dough elasticity, he tells us, “Be careful not to eat it, this dough is only for show!”
Water - 1 litre | Yeast - 1 gram | Flour - 1 to 9 kg | Salt - 90 grams | 1/4th cup (50 grams)
Do share with us a bit about your plans for the year — travel and otherwise.
2019 will be a busy year, a lot of hotels and chefs are waiting for me — in Asia, then the Middle East and far East, as well as a few destinations in Europe. My last stop will be Seoul at the end of the year.
We hear that a showcase of your skills usually involves someone in the audience wearing the
pizza dough on their head or as an apron!
Yes, making a giant pizza is not easy, when I’m doing well, my dough base that starts with just a few centimetres can go up to two metres in diameter. This is with using one kg of dough. Everywhere I go, whether Russia, India or China — people looking at this say “wow”. When I choose a child from the audience to dress him in an ‘apron’ I find myself as ecstatic as my customers.
What would you say is the most difficult part of this sport?
Finding the right dough consistency.
With performance and travel focused on your pizza acrobatics skills, not to forget your pizza school taking up so much of your time — do you ever get fed up of pizza?
Absolutely not! I love pizza and maybe my blood is like pizza sauce. (Smiles) Pizza gives me a lot of satisfaction, and being fed-up of her could be considered disrespectful!
At Focaccia, Hyatt Regency Chennai, February 1 to 10. Starts at Rs 875 per pizza (plus taxes). This includes a pizza acrobatic lesson.
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