- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

SOUTHINGTON, Conn. (AP) - Ace Memeti recently sprinkled some flour on top of a ball of dough on a table in the kitchen of Formaggio Apizza Ristorante.

Then he pressed the dough over and over with his fingers before he began to slowly stretch the sides out by turning the dough in a circle with his palms.

Memeti picked up the dough from the table and made two fists with his hands. With the dough on top of his fists, Memeti gently pulled his arms apart and together to stretch it out more and more. Once the dough was to his liking, Memeti tossed and twirled it high into the air and caught it again with his fists.

Since he was 16, Memeti, now 22, of Plymouth, has been making pizzas. It’s something he’s grown to love so much, and gotten so good at, that he was recognized for his talent at an international pizza competition in Las Vegas.

In March, Memeti, who is the manager of Formaggio Apizza Ristorante on Meriden Avenue in Southington, won third place for the Largest Dough Stretch at the World Pizza Games in Las Vegas. Other competitions at the games include acrobatic dough tossing and pizza box folding.

The World Pizza Games are part of the annual International Pizza Expo, which attracts thousands of pizza makers and people in the pizza business from around the world.

“It’s a big deal,” said Bruce Allar, the meetings and conference vice president of the International Pizza Expo. “The competition grows every year and anyone who finishes in the top three is clearly one of the best in the world at this particular event. People practice pretty hard for these things.”

This year marked the 31st annual competition, which was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on March 23-26 with nearly 7,000 attendees.

A total of 30 contestants participated in the dough stretching competition. Each competitor was given an 18-ounce ball of dough. They were given five minutes to toss the dough to the largest size possible. During the last 20 seconds, Memeti had to put the dough on the floor before it could be measured.

“The pizza (dough) was so big that they didn’t have a table big enough for it so you had to place it on the ground,” Memeti said. “When it was on the ground, they only had 20 seconds to stretch it as big as you can from that point. That 20 seconds flew by fast because once you put it on the ground, it could shrink or it’ll have an air bubble and you want to get that out so you have a longer stretch.”

He stretched the dough an average of 41.3 inches. Memeti said an average large pizza can be stretched to about 16 or 18 inches. The winner stretched it to 45 inches.

Formaggio Apizza Ristorante opened in Southington in May.

Since then the restaurant won Best Pizza at Southington’s Pizza Fest, which got Memeti noticed. He received an invitation from local food distributor Bellissimo to attend the competition in Las Vegas, which is invite-only and not open to the public, said Allar.

“I am now more focused on my pizza career. I can’t wait to go back and compete again,” Memeti said. “I’m very excited and, pizza for life.”

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