Them’s a some pizzaiolos! Island restauranteurs get schooled by nation’s primo pizza pro

Pizza college.

Sounds like the name of an awesome ‘80s movie, right? Possibly starring a bunch of in-their-prime Brat Packers, no doubt written and/or directed by John Hughes?

Alas, the world is sans “Pizza College” (for now), but those within delivering distance of downtown Winslow are soon to reap the rewards of knowledge gained by two local grads of an actual pizza college — no velour or side ponytails required.

Unless you’re into that, of course.

Will Grant, owner of That’s A Some Pizza, and general manager James Lorimer recently made a pilgrimage south to train with Tony Gemignani, a prestigious pizza professional, at his International School of Pizza in San Francisco.

The school, located inside Gemignani’s renowned restaurant, Pizza Napoletana, is the stateside home of the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli, one of the oldest, most prestigious pizza schools in Italy.

Gemignani, a wunderkind-turned-living-legend in the pizza world, was the first master instructor in the United States and, during the intense six-day school, teaches students the history, chemistry and best preparation methods of a bunch of different pies, including Neapolitan, Sicilian, New York, Chicago, California, Detroit and New Haven-style pizza.

In the boys from Bainbridge, he found eager, experienced students.

Grant’s parents opened That’s A Some Pizza in 1984, just one month after the couple’s first restaurant opened in Kingston to phenomenal success. Their trademark dough is based on a sourdough starter recipe that’s 120 years old.

On a busy Friday, Grant said he and his staff will make 300 or 400 pizzas.

So, given the success of the island staple, and the obvious popularity of the product, one might ask: Why bother going back to school?

“The second you stop trying, you become irrelevant,” Grant said. “I have a theory that if you’re not always trying to get ahead, someone else will get ahead of you.

“The restaurant industry kind of has a bad situation where anyone with some money can just step into it,” Grant said. “Anyone who has $50,000 can open up a restaurant and take away your customer base, even if it’s for a little while.”

The goal, then, is to expand horizons and walk the line between tradition and innovation.

But customers shouldn’t worry, Grant said, because whatever specials he and Lorimer cook up — and there are a few surprises in the works — the old favorites aren’t going anywhere.

“We always stick to who we are,” Grant said. “This is our 33rd year of business here, in the same location. It’s the 120th year for our sourdough starter. We keep true to that starter and to who we are here. We’re not anything we’re not. We’re sourdough pizza. We’re Pacific Northwest pizza.

“The idea with going to this school is to finally make it official that we’re certified pizziaolos.”

Pizziaolo is an Italian distinction awarded to culinarians specializing in pizza. Not quite a baker, not quite a chef, these experts straddle both worlds to study, master and innovate every facet of Italy’s greatest export in all its forms and styles.

“Only people who go through this certification can be seen as pizziaolos, at least in Italy’s eyes,” Grant said. “[Gemignani’s] the only one on the West Coast that does it. There’s a few in New York, but he’s also the only American that’s ever won the Italian Pizza Games. He’s a 12-time world pizza champion.”

Boasting at least two such certified pizza pros, Bainbridge almost certainly has an unheard of pizziaolo per population ratio — in America, anyway.

But it’s not the first time the Winslow shop has made history, either. Last year, Grant and company became the first restaurant in Washington state to legally deliver alcohol, with select beers and wine joining the ranks of deliverable delicacies. It was something long-in-the-works, Grant said, but an important innovation for the store.

Attending the school, and learning from Gemignani specifically, had been another great aspiration for Grant.

“I’ve been a fan of Tony Gemignani for a long time,” he said. “He is Mr. Pizza in the states, being the first American to win an Italian award. I think the first time I heard about him was 20 years ago. My mom had just come back from the Pizza Expo in [Las] Vegas. She said, ‘This kid was amazing! He was throwing pizzas under his legs, behind his back!’

“If I’ve ever aspired to be like anybody, it’d be like him,” Grant said.

“He is so cool,” Lorimer agreed. “We came in early to learn as much as we could.

“It was crazy, the amount of time we spent studying and crunching and being like, ‘Oh, this is how you do that!’”

Lorimer, who has risen to his current position after starting with That’s A Some Pizza four years ago (it was his first-ever “real job,” he said) explained that the greatest part of his new-found expertise was that it enabled a fresh bond between himself and his mother.

“My mom went to school for baking science,” he said. “So she knows, and it was funny, I’d be like, ‘I learned this.’ And she’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, and you learned all this other stuff.’ So it was cool for my mom, kind of being able to connect with her.

“It’s cool to get the information,” he added. “Like why this, or how it happened.”

Even Grant, who has worked in many kitchens throughout his life, said the course was enlightening.

“We definitely went pizza makers and we came back pizza scientists,” he said.

That’s A Some Pizza customers can expect a new regular specialty item to be added to the menu soon, courtesy of all that new knowledge.

“We’re going to start doing Sicilian pan pizzas,” Grant said. “Because it’s a labor intensive process, we’re only going to be doing 15 pizzas a day, so people will have to order ahead of time before we sell out.

“[They’re] a thicker crust,” he explained. “You let them proof twice … it’s almost like a focaccia pizza.”

Also on the horizon are some other specialty pies, possibly homemade meatballs and a new sausage recipe, as well.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Grant said. “It’s one the main reasons I went there, was to learn a different style.”

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