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April 11, 2024

In Pursuit Of Pizza: Tony’s Fourth Book Hits The Shelves

by Joe Bonadio

As a longtime owner of Tony’s The Pizza Bible, I’m well aware of his talents as a food writer. It’s one of my favorite cookbooks of any kind, and it taught me how to finally make world-class pizza in my crummy 500º oven. Along with a little hands-on instruction from Tony, the book was an absolute game-changer for me, and I threw more dinner parties that year than any year, before or since.

That being said, it’s exciting to announce the publication of Tony’s new book: The Pursuit of Pizza. Co-authored with Laura Meyer, Mike Bausch and Nick Bogacz, it’s Tony’s fourth, and continues in the pizza-to-the-people vein of Pizza Bible. The book features almost 50 exclusive recipes from 40 pizza makers, all of them World Pizza Champions. Best of all, every one of them is easy to follow. From Laura Meyer’s direct-dough recipe to John Arena’s “Little Carlies” fried calzone and Tony’s very own Cortopassi recipe, they’re all assembled with the home cook in mind.

Needless to say, this one has got me scraping my pizza steels in anticipation. I had the chance to talk with Tony about the new book on Saturday–and our conversation is below.

Joe Bonadio: Congratulations on The Pursuit Of Pizza.

Tony Gemignani: Thank you. You know the name actually changed just prior to the printing, like weeks before. It was Passion….no, Passage. No, Pathway! It was The Pathway to Pizza. And then we came around to Pursuit Of Pizza, and at the last minute decided to go with that.

It’s a collection of forty pizza makers from the World Pizza Champions that came together to do a book. Getting over forty recipes into one book, and making it cohesive enough, with photos, was a real challenge. Because it’s not like you have one pizza maker set for one photoshoot that takes several days. Instead you have all the pizza makers flying into one hub for several days and doing a photoshoot, just to keep the continuity right.

At first we said, how about we do it regionally? Five guys will go here, and six will go there…

JB: But for uniformity…

TG: For uniformity, we had to do it this way.

Another thing that’s unique, there are QR codes throughout the book that take you to YouTube videos. So if you want to learn how to push out Sicilian, or how to ball dough, or how to cut a Roman pizza, you can learn that. It’s really unique.

JB: I saw that, that’s really cool. Who thought of that?

TG: Good question. I don’t know.

JB: That sounds like the kind of thing you’d come up with.

TG: Yeah, it does.

Tony shows off his brand-new book The Pursuit Of Pizza at last month's Pizza Expo in Las Vegas

Tony shows off his brand-new book The Pursuit Of Pizza at last month’s Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. | Photo Courtesy of Tony Gemignani

JB: (Laughter)

TG: Originally Laura Meyer brought up that we [World Pizza Champions] should do a book, and Mike Bausch spearheaded it. Tony Gemignani, Laura Meyer, Nick Bogacz and Mike Bausch are the authors. We spent a lot of time on the book, but a lot of other people did as well. There are forty contributors to this book, and they all have their own stories in it.

I also have a dough recipe in it, and I have the recipe for my Canotto Americano pizza. I also have a tribute pizza to Dino Cortopassi in it too.

JB: I wanted to ask you about that. What is that?

TG: The pizza is a micro-blistering pizza that we do at Tony’s, the Canotto Americano. In Naples, there is a canotto style that has a very prominent crust—the cornicione—that’s super thick. And it’s great, it’s not bready or doughy or anything like that. They cook it longer in a wood-fired oven, and away from the flame. It’s not Neapolitan-hot. It’s a different dough recipe, and a different flour.

I have been making my Canotto Americano style of pizza once in a while for students at my school since around 2010. They asked me, Can you do a pizza like Mozza in L.A.? They do a pizza in the wood-fired oven in a certain way. And I would do my version, and when my students would try it, they’d say it was better than Mozza’s.

JB: And they’re no slouches.

TG: It was always a favorite amongst my students, and my employees would ask me, Why aren’t we doing this? But we had so many styles at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana it was hard to introduce it to the menu. We finally did that last year.

With canotto in Naples, they have all these rules. You have to do it this way, you have to do it that way, with this flour, and that hydration. And I don’t do it in any of those ways. I use a different oven, different flour, different maturation time—everything’s different.

JB: You were basically going for a similar effect, but coming from a completely different direction.

TG: Yeah, and it just had a different look. I actually put the original recipe in Pizza Today Magazine in 2022, a lot of people don’t know this. It was a pizza I dedicated to Dino Cortopassi from Stanislaus, I used all of his tomatoes on it, with burrata in the middle and all the rest.

So when I started posting the recipe, people from Italy were messaging me, saying How do you make this? What’s your biga? Is it 100% biga? All this stuff. Are you using this flour? No, no, no.

And they would be like, How the hell are you getting it to turn out like that? Finally I would just say, you can look at the recipe in Pizza Today Magazine.

Anyway, long story short: I put that recipe in this book, and I believe it’s the first time anyone has put this style of pizza in a book. I don’t think the photo in the book does it full justice, I think it could have been a little better. But it’s a nice crumb structure, and you’ll see me cutting it with scissors, and I kind of show you how to do it.

It’s a very unique pizza that’s showcased as a recipe in the book, and I have my dough recipe in it as well. My dough recipe is one of the base doughs for the majority of the pizzas in the book. So if it’s Chris Decker’s Upside-Down Sicilian, it would be my dough recipe, but maybe matured for five days, things like that.

Co-authors along with Laura Meyer and Nick Bogacz, Tony Gemignani and Mike Bausch celebrate the launch of their book The Pursuit Of Pizza

Co-authors along with Laura Meyer and Nick Bogacz, Tony Gemignani and Mike Bausch celebrate the launch of their book The Pursuit Of Pizza. | Photo Courtesy of Tony Gemignani

JB: So that allows people to get into making most of these recipes more readily.

TG: Yes. Laura Meyer has a dough recipe, and Will Grant has a dough recipe; there are three dough recipes as bases. Gluten-free is in there too. And of course, there are all these different pizza recipes, and cool recipes for things like calzones, breadsticks and meatballs. 

It’s nice, because you’ll see a story on each pizza maker, and their backstories. And you’ll see, there are some really beautiful pizzas in here.

JB: Do you consider this to be kind of a companion piece to The Pizza Bible?

TG: You know, it’s different, and I haven’t mentioned the Bible in here. This one is unique, in that you have forty of the best pizza makers in the world coming together to do a book. So the recipes they showcase are pretty fucking good!

Chris Decker’s Upside-Down Sicilian, John Arena’s calzone—everything is really good. Audrey is in here, Thiago is in here. Laura is in here. Floriana—she and I go back to when I competed in Italy back in 2000. She was one of the first ladies I met at the competition in Italy. She lived there, and was competing as well. So it’s nice to come full circle on a project like this.

So you can get the book on Amazon right now. We’ve been working on finding different printers to be able to offer it at a reasonable price. It’s been hard, because this wasn’t through the publishers—the three books I did before were done through publishers, so this is different.

But a lot of money went into this book, and we had a lot of support. HormelRoma and PizzaMaster were all big supporters of this book, and we couldn’t have done it without them.

It was a collab—everybody had to come together. Valerie Wei-Haas did the photography, and the photography in the book is great. Even some people from The Pizza Bible—Amy Vogler was the recipe tester for Pizza Bible, and she was our recipe tester for this book. 

It was one of those things: Okay, you did The Pizza Bible, and your next book is gonna be self-published….but this is a nice book. It had to be beautifully done. The recipes are very solid in it, and the QR-code videos that go with it are key. I get calls all the time from my book: How do you ball the dough? It seems wet.

JB: You’ve got to see it.

TG: You’ve got to see it. It’s hard to write a perfect description, but when you’re able to see it on video, it’s totally different. 

JB: So you launched it at Pizza Expo?

TG: It was late. We expedited the printing, and paid all this money. It didn’t come Thursday, it didn’t come Friday, it didn’t come Saturday. It came Wednesday late afternoon….after all my demos. Everything except Thursday.

JB: Oh man.

Released in March, The Pursuit Of Pizza is Tony's fourth book

Released in March, The Pursuit Of Pizza is Tony’s fourth book. | Photo Courtesy of Tony Gemignani

TG: We got the book for an influencer launch, and we had to move the whole thing because the books weren’t there. We had to move it from Tuesday morning to Wednesday night, and we had to get all the books signed for these influencers—by all forty pizza makers [sighs]. We had to do hundreds of books.

It was a lot of pressure, a lot of stress. We couldn’t get ahold of anyone at all over the weekend, then we finally got someone on Monday, and they told us we wouldn’t have it until Wednesday.

JB: So you missed almost the entire Expo.

TG: Almost the entire Expo. The book was only there for a day, pretty much. It was very hurried, very nerve wracking. 

But it was very cool to see the members who’ve never had a book have someone come up to them and say “Hey, can I get your autograph?” I remember seeing that happen to Will Grant, and the Mercurios, and Tony Cerimele. Seeing that….I’ve had books before and signed them and gone through all of that, but seeing it happen to them was cool. Seeing the looks on their faces, that was a highlight.

It was like they didn’t realize what it was to be in a book until they opened it, and saw their photos—and then they got it. Like Holy shit, this is great!

It means a lot to see so many pizza makers who once worked at Tony’s being featured in the book, people like Laura Meyer, Thiago Vasconcelos and Audrey Kelly. All of them are so talented, and it’s great to see their recipes alongside those of so many former students. I feel like a proud papa.

So we’re going to be doing some TV with it. I just did a show called California Live, and there are some other shows that are excited about it. So hopefully I’ll be around to be on those too. Meanwhile, I’ve got the book on sale right now at Giovanni’s here in North Beach.

JB: Congratulations again, Tony.