7-year old pizza tossing prodigy hails from Jersey City pizzeria, has sights on national stage
Published: Saturday, March 31, 2012, 3:32 PM
Updated: Saturday, March 31, 2012, 4:20 PM
Stephanie Musat/ For The Jersey Journal
Michael Testa stood with his feet apart, knees bent, starring at his father, Carmine.
"You ready?" Carmine asked. Michael nodded.
Carmine picked up a eight-inch circle of pizza dough and threw it at his son.
The 7-year old kid stood behind the counter so only his shoulders could be seen, and began spinning the dough until it grew almost as tall as he was. He manhandled another ball, the size of a softball, and tossed it in the air again.
With a constant wrist motion, the dough got into a rhythm. It moved faster and faster as if Testa was a centrifuge, and the dough was stuck in motion. He switched hands. The pace was not interrupted.
"He knows all the tricks I know," his father said with plain sincerity, as he watched his son expertly toss pizza dough with a smile on his face. "My arsenal is depleted."
Carmine, owner and namesake of Carmine's Pizza Factory in Jersey City, bought practice dough so he could begin honing the tricks after a few month-hiatus as the pizzeria moved locations to the corner of Eighth and Brunswick streets. He showed the check, dated January 27, as proof that the dough had only been around for two months.
And in that two months, Michael learned more than two decades of work in a pizzeria taught his father after watching is father practice and picking up the 'dough' on his own.
As soon as Michael picked up the nude colored plastic disc, "he was a natural," said his mother Diana, as she wiped renegade flour from her son's face.
Impressed with how quickly Michael picked up the skill, Carmine made a video and put it on YouTube. More than 8,500 hits later, the video is getting some attention.
"making pies for twenty plus years, and can't do what this kid can do," one user commented.
"This kid belongs on TV, America Got talent or something. Dude you ROCK!" another one wrote.
But with success comes criticism: "You all realize that's a practice skin right, it's not real dough. Not saying he doesn't have skills, he obviously does. But if he was using real dough his hand would have went through that skin soon or later," one user said in an attempt to dish reality to a little boy reveling in some limelight.
But Michael, untouched by the comments coated in anonymity, knows he has talent, guessing that by the time he is 15 he would take over his father's pizzeria. In his timeline, by the time he's 11, he'll be in competitions. A few years later, he'll be sponsored.
His father, noticing the potential, said he is hoping to hook him up with a professional pizza tosser so he can get formal training. Some sponsored pizza throwers can get up to $250,000 a year from competitions.
The idea of Michael being sponsored is a bit bittersweet for Carmine, knowing that the big name pizzerias - the direct competition for his 12-year shop - would be paying him. "But it would be worth it to watch Michael succeed," he said.
In the meantime, Michael's challenge is to teach his little brother, Nicholas, how to toss like a champion. Nicholas, the creative one, according to his family, can throw the pizza. It's the catching needs some work.
"I can do it, too" Nicholas said, with a toothy grin. Maybe in a year or two, he'll get it, his father guessed.
When Michael was done with pizza, noting his eyes hurt after the shower of flour that changed his short young hair to a salt-and-pepper coiffure, he picked up a soccer ball and ran through the pizzeria. Nicholas shadowed closely by.
The two ran laps through the pizzeria, stopping briefly to look at their baby sister, Chloe. She was awake, even though she didn't nap all day. Before Michael ran off again, his mother grabbed him.
"Whenever he's not covered in flour, he's covered in mud," she said with a hint of pride as she licked her finger to rub off extra flour on his forehead. The indirect compliment opened up the laundry list of her son's accomplishments outside the pizzeria.
He plays soccer. Really well, his father said. He plays with kids older than him because he ruins it those his age. He's a black belt in karate. He loves science. He was sad that he had to be taken out of an after-school science class for this interview. Instead he brought a science experiment to the pizzeria, and sat at a table with Diana to explore the wonders of miniature Styrofoam balls and static electricity.
He can pick up skills after seeing them once. When Michael was learning how to swim, his father had him hold onto a pole in the water. He would let go for seconds and grab back on before getting used to the feel of the pool. Within two hours, he was swimming lengths by himself.
He used to model. He even landed a national campaign for Luvs Diapers that was supposed to air commercials on every network, but drawn-out complications with rights to a Beatles song changed the direction of the ad campaign, and subsequently reinforced Carmine's hatred for the band.
But that failed opportunity means something else is waiting for his son, Carmine said, with a fierce determination in his voice. And it just might be this pizza thing. Carmine worked with his father in his pizzeria, starting when he was 13. Michael's starting six years earlier.
Michael has already talked to producers from The Rachel Ray Show to get him on air. He might be featured in an episode of a reality show, shot in Hudson County. He's got his sights on Ellen DeGeneres's show.
"I'm proud that he has taken an interest in my field of work," Carmine said. "Something big will happen for him. I know it."