“To me, playing with pizza is no different than playing with a ball down the street.”
From spinning on the disks of his old turntable as a DJ to spinning on some pizza dough in the air, we don’t think it was all just the work of fate. Pasqualino Barbasso is a pizzaiolo with a mission; to prepare your pizza in the most eccentric way and leave your palate with an aftertaste that you will never forget!
Debuting in Sicily, this Italian chef is among the best acrobatic pizza makers alive, winning twice the World Championship of Acrobatic Pizza and making appearances in top rated restaurants all around the world.
Chef Pasqualino was here for a ten day stay at the Phoenicia Hotel, offering his best to his loyal Lebanese fans at the Caffe Mondo every night. We managed to catch him for an interview for you! So here’s what happened.
Chef, you won the world championship of Pizza Acrobatica several times. It is a quite unusual activity. How did you discover it?
I became a pizzaiolo at the age of 17 and opened a pizzeria like any normal pizzaiolo, and two years later I started acrobatic pizza. It took me an entire year of training before becoming apt. I’ve been an acrobatic pizzaiolo for 15 years now. I don’t know how exactly it came but I kept seeking ways to improve myself. I love what I do and this is what pushed me to look further into what more I could do. I was world champion twice (2001-2002). From there, I started going around the world and making shows. I have my own school and business in Italy. I am also frequently called upon worldwide for consultancy and business enhancement purposes.
How were your first experiences in acrobatic pizza making?
Oh, I dropped some pizza dough on the kitchen floor every day for quite a while. You can’t do this within a week or even a month’s time. To master the Pizza Acrobatica skills, you need an excellent feel of the dough.
You were here in February, and here you are again within less than a year. What’s your story with Beirut city?
Beirut is a very special city to me. It was here in Caffe Mondo that I started my first experience outside Italy in 2003. I visit Beirut every time I get the chance to. I love Beirut. The memories I have here are very dear to me.
Watching you in action, we can’t imagine you any other way! Did you ever have a passion that once outgrew that of the culinary?
(He sighs and smiles) Yes… I call it my first love. When I was at school, I discovered DJaying in my teenage years and I used to play for my friends and at parties. I love mixing music with my old turntable when I find the time to. I remember playing with my good friend DJ George here at an old club in Phoenicia Hotel once. It’s a very nice memory.
How important is it for you to maintain your image as a chef whose primary concern is the actual quality of his pizzas while people tend to forget this side of you when they see you in action?
Well, the very first thing I insist upon when teaching my students in Italy is to always prioritize the quality of the pizza that they’re making itself before moving on to the acrobatic pizza training program. What’s important is for their pizzas to be of the best quality possible and for them to be professional at work.
“First a pizzaiolo, and after an acrobatic pizzaiolo” (he adds).
How do you like the way people conceive an Italian pizza in Beirut?
You can find a good pizza in Lebanon. A real Italian pizza.
People sure are dying to know the secret behind this spinning pizza dough. Did you figure out your own recipe to make it so elastic?
There is a “breakpoint” to the dough. If you have a good feel of the dough, then you know how to handle it. And this doesn’t come without a really good experience. (He blushes) I treat my pizza as I would treat a pretty lady; with delicacy and care. Now about the ingredients to make the dough: flour, water, yeast, oil, and some extra salt for a better elasticity.
Tell us what are the ingredients that make a genuine Italian pizza to you?
First of all, the dough should be thin, light and a little crusty. The tip is to let your dough rise for a day – or even two if possible before using it. For a real Italian pizza, you need fresh ingredients: a good mozzarella and fresh tomatoes to begin with. And always prefer seasonal vegetables!
How often do you eat pizza yourself?
Every day! I eat pizza every day. I can never get enough of pizza.
You can’t be a pizzaiolo if you don’t have that passion for your pizzas.
Did you get the chance to explore the Lebanese cuisine during your busy stays in Beirut? Did any particular dishes attract your attention?
During my ten day stay, all I ate was Lebanese mezza, and only Lebanese mezza (he insists). I love Lebanese food. I like having a man’oushe for breakfast, and I particularly appreciate rekakat (cheese rolls).
Italy is famous for its high quality olive oil. What do you think of the Lebanese olive oil?
(With excitement) In Lebanon too! I tried extra virgin olive oil here. You have really good olives in Lebanon and the oil is just as good as in my country. In Italy, we don’t have the best wheat for example; we import it from countries like Canada and Ukraine. But the process itself of making flour out of wheat grains just as making olive oil out of olives makes all the difference. You need to have the know-how. And Italy has the best flour for pizza because it has the best know how.
Tell us about a funny occurrence during one of your shows.
(He smiles) Well there’s something I do in the show… I drop the pizza dough on somebody’s head… Or I make someone wear the big pizza dough like an apron.
What’s the best thing about traveling the world and sharing your passion with others?
The best thing about traveling the world for my shows is the people that I get to meet. My work is my life. I like to leave good memories in the hearts of others. It gives me satisfaction when they remember me for what I do.