Pizza School

Yeah, yeah, you love pizza. Sure, you make the “best pizza” at home. But you don’t. You haven’t been to pizza school, possibly the most fun you’ll ever have with dough and sauce.

The institution is the U.S. campus of Italy’s Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli, or Italian Pizza-maker School, in San Francisco’s North Beach. The classroom is Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, a sort of cathedral, nay, Vatican of pizza. The professor is Tony Gemignani, the only American to win the Trofeo Citta di Napoli Campionato Internazionale per Pizzaioli, which is the pizza universe’s equivalent of the World Cup, held each year in Naples, Italy. He achieved that status by making the best margherita pizza of 2007.

Gemignani explains the science and craft behind making great dough—why certain styles call for malt powder and some call for only flour, water and yeast. But he is really teaching the “art of pizza,” demonstrating as he goes along. Using a starter dough, students learn to make sauce, transfer the pie to the oven, even how to toss the pizza—all under the patient guidance of Gemignani, who frequently pauses to ask, “Does that make sense?”

Gemignani guides you through perhaps the most difficult task to master, how to “push out a pizza,” meaning shape a pizza “skin” out of a ball of dough. “Start round,” Gemignani advises, “you’ll end up round.”

While the professional course ($3,000) is five days, matriculating amateurs may want to consider the eight-hour home pizza chef class (about $500). “The home course is about using ingredients you can get at the store,” explains Nancy Pugliese, Gemignani’s partner and director of operations. “The professional course is about making pizza, but also running a pizza restaurant.”

“I have five ovens. I use eight [different] flours,” Gemignani tells students, sounding like the “pope” of pizza. “I wanted folks to be able to compare different styles at one table.” You use all five ovens, from the awesome $10,000 Cuppone Evolution electric oven to a reasonable facsimile of the oven you have at home. The incentive to be a good student is that you’ll eat what you make. My favorite was the white clam pie with roasted garlic, made in the 1,000-degree coal oven.

I now proudly hold diplomas in both Classic American and Sicilian (deep-dish) pizza. And my skins come out mostly round (or rectangular if I’m making a Sicilian). Now, I just have to figure out how to get that Cuppone oven into my kitchen.