Besides embarking upon a national book tour this month for The Pizza Bible (Ten Speed Press), Tony Gemignani is busy opening three restaurants in Vegas, another in LA, and launching his own brand of flour, Tony’s Californian Artisan.
Dream soundtrack/album while cooking?
What’s your motto?
Respect the craft.
For whom do you most like to cook?
Joe Montana. I make him sausage and peppers, margherita pizza, and meatballs at our house. He's the king, and memories of him and the 49ers winning those Super Bowls and all the games were a big part of growing up and being a kid. Always an honor to cook for him.
Prosciutto Di Parma, Salumi, 36 month Parmigiano Reggiano, Lambrusco.
Any dietary restrictions?
No, but I need to loose 15 pounds.
Greatest professional moment?
Being on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I was 23. It was surreal and amazing.
Strangest customer request?
Phone delivery order from when I was younger: “Double anchovy with a side of Tony.”
When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?
I always loved food and watching my mom cook as a kid was one of my best memories, but I really realized I wanted to be a chef when I made my first pizza when I was 17 working at my brothers pizzeria. I fell in love with it.
Favorite ingredient to work with and why?
Peppadew peppers - so versatile.
Most overrated ingredient?
Best thing you’ve eaten in SF?
Octopus Salad at Tadich Grill.
What do you make for yourself to eat at home?
Soft tacos or nachos with Cholula or Crystal Hot Sauce.
Cool Whip, soft serve, and dark chocolate.
What motivates you?
It's the love of pizza and my industry. The passion. It's a relationship, man. I'm always trying to make it better. It's exciting and rewarding.
What would you request for your last meal?
Pizza Romana - at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, it's three pizzas in one, cracker thin. It's communal and takes a long time to finish. It can feed a big group, so I hope someone is there with me.
Food trend you’re on board with?
Ancient grains, stone ground flour, Detroit style, and coal fire pizza.
Food trend that needs to die?
Which living culinary person do you most admire?
Favorite food as a kid?
Cheese pizza, mac and cheese, Mom’s spaghetti.
What most influences your food?
Italian America cuisine.
Favorite midnight snack?
Fresh watermelon with cayenne and sea salt.
What’s in your refrigerator?
Tab, lots of cheeses, corn tortillas, Brussels sprouts, watermelon, grapes, yogurt, Bing cherries, ground turkey, Perrier lime, Leffe blonde, Martinelli's grape cider, hard cider, PJ Champagne.
Where do you go for a good drink and what do you order?
Sodinis, Original Joe’s, Gino & Carlo's, Tony Niks, Park Tavern. I get a North Beach—Campari Soda with a Brandy Float—or a glass of Prosecco, Blanton's, or Sangiovese.
King of Thai Noodle House.
Bay Area restaurants on your list to try?
Mission Chinese, Pican, Pabu.
Favorite don't-tell-anyone junk food?
20-piece chicken McNugget.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten?
Squid Ink pizza from team Japan at the 2001 world pizza championships in Italy. Way too fishy and wet. It was a mess.
If you weren't a chef, you'd be….?
Photographer, fashion designer, farmer—not sure which one would have happened.
Happiest food moment?
Being in Barcelona, Spain at Las Ramblas. It was a foodie moment at this outdoor market. So many amazing things. My wife and I went back five times and ate so much. Or Formentera, Spain—my wife and I took a boat to the island from Ibiza, rented a scooter, rode across the entire island and had Mediterranean olives, drank wine, and ate seafood paella. It was monumental.
Customer pet peeves?
When a margherita pizza lands on the table and the customer doesn't start to eat it within two minutes. It's one of those things that makes you cringe. Sometimes I just fire them a new one and take it away. I always want the best.
Favorite culinary journey?
My wife and I were in the Chianti region of Italy in Monteriggioni, and we decided to go grab something to eat. I drove away from the town and down a road which I thought had a restaurant but it turned into a dirt road, then rough terrain. We drove for miles, and it got dark. Nobody was anywhere. We didn't know if we were on a road or what. I didn't turn back. We stumbled onto a town. There was one restaurant, a small church, and a store. We drank wine, had cheese, salumi, broke bread, and had a Florentine steak served on a hot stone that was out of this world. The pasta was fresh and al dente—just how I like it. It was a wonderful night. Now, how do we get back?
Describe your kitchen persona in one word.
Favorite hidden gems?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I may never grow up.
How far would you travel for a killer meal?
San Gimignano, Italy, to have wild boar tagliatelle then to Campionato Gelateria for a pistachio gelato—both walking distance.
Most treasured possession?
1961 Willie Mays Card. It was the first real baseball card I bought, in 1983. I'm a big collector of all things.
This article was published in 7x7's October 2014 issue. Click here to subscribe.