weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Master pizza makers compete at expo in Las Vegas

For his entry in the International Pizza Expo’s Freestyle Acrobatic Dough Tossing competition, William Gazal Jr. of Brazil tossed rounds of pizza to a recording of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” while working in a few break-dancing moves, then stood on the shoulders of two members of his team, donned a blindfold and tossed some more.

And he finished last.

Gazal, 18, was the first competitor in the novice division of the dough-tossing contest, the centerpiece of the Block Party Wednesday night that was the expo’s culminating social event. Other World Pizza Games events during the expo, held last week at the Las Vegas Convention Center, included fastest dough stretching, largest dough stretching, fastest pizza-box folding and a triathlon of all three.

If it seems a wacky way to recognize the skills of some of the country’s premiere pizzamakers — as well as a number of the stars of the future — 12-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani (who has 19 restaurants, including Pizza Rock downtown and Little Tony’s at Palace Station), who revived the Las Vegas games in 2005, said they serve a definite purpose.

“There are competitions in practically everything we do in pizza,” he said. “You always want to showcase your talents; so where better than at the world’s largest pizza show?” Gemignani said camaraderie builds among the teams. In Italy, where there are two similar competitions, he said hometowns form teams to compete.

The Pizza Games are serious business, with 21 stated rules in the novice or “first” division of acrobatic dough tossing, 20 in the masters division.

“Over the years, the rules have gotten a lot better and cleaner,” Gemignani said. “The dough they use is much more consistent. Now I feel competitors have an equal advantage, where back in the day it wasn’t always like that.”

The panel of judges evaluated the competitors in five categories: dexterity, difficulty level, synchronization (“How well does the speed of the music match the speed of the competitor’s throwing?”), variety of tricks and creativity/entertainment value. The dough had to be continuously spun, with “seamless” transitions between tricks. Competitors would be penalized each time they dropped the dough.

They also had to work their own dough. Balls were provided, which they had a limited amount of time to roll and stretch into discs.

Glenn Cybulski, whose awards include being named World Pizza Champion in Naples, Italy, and who acted as master of ceremonies for the competitions, stressed that a great deal of preparation and up to a year of practice go into the routines.

“We’ve got these young kids building dreams from all over the world,” Cybulski said.

Jerome Falco of France, who followed Gazal, juggled three dough rounds at once. But the division was won by Ezequiel Ortigoza of Argentina, who demonstrated an energy on stage that would rival Bruce Springsteen. He used flour as an artistic element, sprinkling it and spinning it off the dough rounds, and he added colored lights, spinning them for a disco effect when the house lights were lowered. As his finale, he tossed an exceptionally large lump of dough into a round about four feet in diameter and then let it fall and drape around him like a cape.

Ortigoza’s performance earned him the first spot in the masters division, where his routine included making it “snow” with flour flying off a large dough round. His competitors included Takumi Tachikawa of Japan and Jamie C. Culliton, named 2016 dough acrobatics world champion at the competition in Parma, Italy, who competed in a shirt and tie and spun dough while performing moves including planking and pushups.

Many of the competitors flung dough into the audience, where observers could be seen working on their own skills. By the end of the masters event, while the judges’ votes were tallied, people throughout the ballroom were tossing and spinning dough while Toto’s “Africa” roared from the DJ’s speakers. Add some sauce and cheese and there would have been enough pizza in the room to feed a small developing country.

In the end, the top three winners were separated by just one point. Second and third went to Culliton and Tachikawa; in the top spot was repeat winner Scott Volpe, whose over-the-top acrobatic routine included some old-school break dancing and one spot with his T-shirt pulled over his head. His plaque was delivered to the stage in a pizza box.

The International Pizza Expo, billed as the largest pizza industry show in the world (and which is not open to the public), is in its 34th year and this year had more than 500 exhibitors and more than 1,400 booths with wares that included flour, cheese, tomatoes, meats, vegetables, boxes, serving equipment, furniture, signs, etc. The expo included seminars and workshops on topics related to the management and other business aspects of the pizza industry.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Heavier traffic expected from EDC festival attendees
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees began to vacate the Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting before 5 a.m., the majority heading south on Interstate 15.
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DJ Steve Aoki visits Las Vegas comic book store
DJ Steve Aoki visits Torpedo Comics in Las Vegas Friday, May 17, 2019, for a signing for his new comic book series "Neon Future." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Coca-Cola to bring back New Coke drink from 1985

Coca-Cola drinkers will get a chance to relive one of the company’s darker chapters as New Coke makes a comeback under a partnership with the Netflix drama “Stranger Things,” the companies announced Tuesday.