World champion pizza acrobat Pasqualino Barbasso shares his skills and creates a char siu Hong Kong special
Two-time world champion Pasqualino Barbasso grew up making pizza in his family’s restaurant. He branched out into pizza acrobatics and now travels the world sharing his art and making delicious pizzas. Catch him at Cucina in the Marco Polo Hongkong Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui
The pizza dough spins smoothly over the top of pizzaiolo Pasqualino Barbasso’s guiding hands; first he twirls it in front of his face, then sends it into the air only to catch it and send it in a different direction, seemingly defying gravity. As he works the dough, it pulls and stretches. Before long the base is now a metre in diameter, spinning over his head.
Watching him in the kitchen, it’s not hard to see why the 44-year-old chef has been crowned the world champion of pizza acrobatics – not once but twice. He’s a master at manipulating the pizza base.
Barbasso makes it look easy – he whips it around his body, under his legs, throwing it in the air and stretching it to monstrous lengths – but I can promise you it’s not.
Giving it a go alongside the master, my dough does one spin and bundles itself in a sad, limp mess around my hands.
Pizza making is in Barbasso’s blood. Starting his pizzaiolo career at 17, the Sicilian says he was practically “born” in his family’s pizzeria, the 40-year-old Falco Azzurro in Cammarata, where he still works when he’s not travelling the world with his acrobatic act.
In his 20s he started entertaining guests with his dough antics. “I was a normal pizza maker, then after a few years I felt the need to improve my professional skills, so I started to play and I became a little crazy,” he says.
Barbasso raised some eyebrows with his unorthodox pizzaiolo style, combining entertainment and his love of Italian cooking. But any concerns his family may have had were soon dashed when he won the Sicily pizza acrobatic championship in 1998, before taking his talents to the world stage, where he was crowned world champion for pizza acrobatics in 2001 and 2002. His love of making pizza and entertaining diners has taken him around the globe, including France, Russia, India and Singapore. He is now at the Italian restaurant Cucina at Marco Polo HongKong Hotel.
Until May 6, he will be showing off his gravity-defying tricks to diners at lunch and dinner, as well as tempting them with his speciality pizza menu that includes the mouthwatering Hong Kong creation, char siu pizza (HK$248).
“I chose barbecue pork because this is the most well-known Hong Kong-style roast meat. Enhancing the barbecue with classic mozzarella and smoked cheese, I hope this delicious pizza will appeal to the tastes and creativity of local gourmands,” he says.
Barbasso, who is the CEO of a pizza school in his homeland, is on a mission to promote the art of pizza and traditional Italian food culture.
“Food is nice, but if you have a marriage between food and entertainment, it is the best,” he says. “Usually the chef just cooks, but that is not exciting for the guest; they want to see more. People go to the restaurant for fun. People want to eat good pizza and see a good show.”
The dough he uses in his performances differs from the one he uses for his delicate pizza bases (for the record, his pizza of choice is a “simple margarita”). The performance dough must be able to withstand being pulled, shaped and thrown about for a few minutes.
While it’s obvious that hundreds of hours of practice – and a healthy serving of talent – has gone into his stunning acrobatic act, he still insists that the secret behind his spinning skills is his “passion” for the job. “If you love your work, you can make a good pizza; you can start to play with pizza,” he says.
And the hardest part of pizza acrobatics? “It is freestyle, so you have to be relaxed and not nervous,” he says. “Everything must be perfect. It is very difficult.”
It sounds like it’s best if I just stick to eating pizza. Now that’s something I can definitely do with passion.
See Pasqualino Barbasso at lunch and dinner at Cucina – 6/F, Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel, 3 Canton Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2113 0808. Until May 6