The Tasting Panel magazine

JUNE 2011

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WORD OF MOUTh Going through the WHEN THE PIZZA OVEN IS THE FOCAL pOINT AT YOUR RESTAURANT, YOU NEED TO GO EXTREME by Merrill Shindler Bake Door B ack in the day, when pizza was new in America and the hamburger ruled supreme, pizza-makers had a very simple choice when it came to their ovens. They used a deck oven, one of those wide ovens with a door that flipped down that could hold five or six pies at once and was probably made by Bakers Pride—a classic gas oven with no moving parts, that lasted forever. But these days, no pizzaiolo worth his or her sauce would be caught dead cooking in a mass-pro- duced deck oven. If you’re seriously well connected, you may stand a chance of hooking up with third-generation Neapolitan pizza oven maestro Stefano Ferrara. If you want, he’ll send you the oven with build-it-yourself instructions—about 15,000 pounds of materials that are going to get your UPS guy really upset with you. But for a little extra (no, actually, a lot extra), you can get Stefano himself to build the oven on-site. Which is what he did at Mario Batali’s Eataly in New York, at Via Tribunali in Seattle and Portland—and most recently at Sotto in Los Angeles, where pizzas cook in less than 30 seconds, in an oven where temperatures regularly exceed 1,000 degrees. Most great pizza makers use just one oven for their pies. But not nine-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, who has six different ovens at his adjoining restaurants, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and Tony’s Coal-Fired Pizza & Slice House in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Some use coal. Some use wood. Some use gas. Each is set to a different temperature. Each cooks in a different way and for a different type of pie. And then, there’s the pizza oven used by La Brea Bakery’s Nancy Silverton at her Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. Her pies are inspired by the pizza bianca made in the bakeries near the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome—thicker creations, defined by a crust that crackles with every bite and simple toppings of herbs and oil. To do that, she needed an oven that cooked at a relatively cool 700 degrees, with the pies baking in about four minutes. Her partner Mario Batali suggested using a terra cotta oven like the one he has at his vacation home on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. What they decided on is an imported, custom- built Valoriani 160-by-140 oven that looks like an igloo—albeit an igloo that burns 15 pounds of seasoned wood per hour, and can cook 16 ten-inch pies at once. It’s the same oven used at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and at Oliveto in Oakland, where chef Paul Bertolli says, “It’s never allowed to cool, we use it for everything: flatbreads and pizza, roast fish, poultry and vegetables, pasta al forno, overnight braising. It’s ideal for searing thin cuts of beef, fired with green or wet wood. We even use it for smoking. The oven is the center and source of all the cooking that goes on.” As a pizza oven should be. 0 / the tasting panel / june 201 1

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