Playing with your food

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WERE WE really born just to eat, mate, then die? How about having a little fun? A two-time World Champion of Pizza Acrobatics (in 2001 and 2002) shows us how we can play with our food, have fun, and live well at the same time.

Pasqualino Barbasso hails from Sicily, once the sister nation of Naples (the home of pizza, but don’t say that to the other regions) under the Bourbons as the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies. He worked as a pizzaiolo (that’s the Italian term for a pizza chef) at his family’s pizzeria in Cammarata in Sicily. When he’s not touring, he still works there.

Don’t underestimate the power of boredom, because that’s how Mr. Barbasso found his talent. “I started in the beginning, just for myself, because I felt a bit bored,” he said. “You make pizza after two, three hours, it will become a little bit boring.”

The charming and smiling chef performed for guests during a luncheon at Marco Polo’s Cucina on Aug. 29, showing his manipulation of dough: juggling up to three balls of it, kneading it as a full circle then spinning it above his head, catching it from his legs — really, it’s quite a show, especially when you’re as easy to impress as this reporter. But does it change the pizza? BusinessWorld got a taste of his Piemontese (beef, tuna, mozzarella, capers, anchovies), Mediterranea (eggplant, sun-dried tomato, mozzarella, basil powder), Arrotolata (artichokes, parma ham, cherry tomatoes, arugula leaves), and Grand Fume (smoked salmon, burrata, arugula leaves, cherry tomatoes) pizzas. Well, the topping are sublime, and have the whiff of freshness that you don’t get in a boxed pizza. Furthermore, the dough had a smoky taste on the outside, but an overall softness and chewiness on the inside. Bravo!

For all the fun and games in making his pizza — at least, it looks fun: Mr. Barbasso had to wipe off his perspiration after the physical exertion of manipulating dough, so it’s less a game but more of a performance — has it added any value at all to the pizza? He says that it doesn’t, but does add a caveat: “If you treat the dough in a bad way, you damage the rising.”

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For his performances, he uses a special kind of dough, one that doesn’t need any raising, but in his hometown, the dough he tosses about eventually gets served to the guests, amid much clapping. To him, a good pizza dough is one that has been raised for 24 hours, and has been “opened” (we gleaned it means along the line of kneading) by hand. “Never use a rolling pin, because you damage the texture of the dough,” he said.

Italians and Americans can fight all day about which nation makes the best pizza, but he says, “There isn’t a best pizza in the world. There are different kinds. The difference would be the skill of the maker.”

Okay, so Mr. Barbasso can toss dough, but can he make a good pizza? Our bet says yes, but then he says, “You don’t play with pizza if you don’t know how to play.”

“It’s always more important to make a good pizza. If you don’t know how to prepare a good pizza, better not start with the acrobatics.”

While Mr. Barbasso leaves on Sept. 5, his creations will be available at Cucina until Sept. 15. — Joseph L. Garcia

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