For the final entry in our Pizza Week 2014 survey series, we asked Boston chefs and restaurant owners about their pizza ovens. Here's what they had to say.
Frank DePasquale, Owner of DePasquale Ventures: "Our true Neapolitan pizza oven at Quattro is from Italy, and it is a Marra Forni. It is a brick oven, and it cooks pizza in less than a minute. It is at 800-900 degrees, and it is made with the sand of Mount Vesuvius."
Joe Cassinelli, Owner of Posto and Painted Burro: "The pizza oven is a Valoriani — it's a family that's in Italy that's licensed the rights to build the ovens in Mugnaini in California. The reason our ovens are built here in the States is because it's much easier to control the workmanship. There are some ovens out there that they've been having problems with; I've heard there are a lot of problems that have been happening with the Stefano Ferrara ovens because they tried to go into mass production, and they're shipping these ovens from Italy, but they were having some workmanship issues. My oven is very consistent.
We just bought a 22-foot mobile pizza truck that we're going to put another one of our Mugnaini ovens in. Just really excited about it. I think it's a great Italian oven, a very versatile oven. It has certainly served its purpose for what we need. It's a very old model; these models don't change much in hundreds of years.
It's always been an 'It's the wizard, not the wand' mentality with a lot of this stuff. You have to learn to work with your oven. I tell people it's a dance all night long. I think that here in the United States people see a picture of this perfect Neapolitan pizza that somebody snapped a photo of, and then when they go to that pizzeria, they expect to have that exact same pizza, and the beauty of Neapolitan pizza is that it's an artisan pizza. No two are the same. Any pizzeria that you go to in Naples — if you go for lunch, the pizza that you have for dinner is different than the pizza you had for lunch. The ovens are a different temperature; the dough is at a different ferment stage. That's the beauty of it. It's not like a pizza place where you go and expect to have the exact same pizza over and over again. You dance with your oven, you dance with your dough, and you have to learn to get to know each other all night long."
Phil Frattaroli, Owner of Ducali: "Our oven is about forty years old, from the old Polcari's. We are probably the fifth restaurant to use it."
Rodney Murillo, Culinary Director of Davio's: "An Italian oven-maker in Italy and an American engineer invented this incredible pizza oven that we have in Davio's Cucina in Lynnfield and now Davio's Manhattan. Its high temperature and the way the heat rotates in the oven cooks the pizza evenly from top to bottom at the same time, and it's great for small individual thin crust pizzas. We customize the build of the kitchen at Davio's around this oven. The restaurant gets build around it because it is such a special piece of equipment."
Carla and Christine Pallotta, Co-Owners of Nebo: "There is no such thing as the 'best pizza oven' because it depends on what kind of dough you're using. We tried open flame to cook our pizzas fast, but we add a little sugar to our dough, so the bottom would burn and the top wouldn't cook. We settled on an oven from Marsal & Sons in Lindenhurst, NY and had ours fitted with extra stones to retain heat. The secret: The more you use a pizza oven, the more the stone is seasoned, the better the pizza gets."
Kosta Diamantopoulos, Co-Owner of All Star Pizza Bar and All Star Sandwich Bar: "At the All Star Pizza Bar we use Marsal Brick-Lined ovens. Marsal has a left-to-right burner design and 2"-thick brick cooking surface allowing for even bake."
Andrew Hebert, Executive Chef at TRADE: "I love our Wood Stone. Jody Adams, TRADE co-owner Eric Papachristos, and I took a trip to the factory in Seattle to hand-pick our oven. I find it very versatile; we use it for so many things. It bakes and browns evenly, and the flatbreads cook very quickly."
John DeSimone, Co-Owner of MAST' (coming soon): "Our wood-fired pizza oven is from one of the original pizza oven manufacturers in Naples, Italy: ACUNTO Napoli. A family-owned company since 1892, ACUNTO still makes ovens only to order — handmade, brick by brick — which in turn makes every oven produced unique. This oven has set the precedent to the many Neapolitan pizza ovens made today, and we are proud to have the original!" (Co-owner Marco Caputo adds that it "has a small entrance like the oldest tradition of brick oven artisans in Napoli, the birthplace of the pizza. Our 5500-pound brick oven cooks seven to eight pizzas in 60 to 90 seconds. It's wood-burning but can be used as gas-burning too, making the oven always ready for the best result at 900 degrees.")
Anthony Radzikowski, Owner of Ernesto's: "My oven? Nothing really exciting about it. [Laughs.] I can make a lot of things exciting, but the oven? I know in the pizza industry, in the last 15 years, the variety of pizza ovens has really exploded. 20-30 years ago, typically the only ovens that we used were just your standard deck ovens. In the last 15 years, people started with wood-burning ovens, coal-fired ovens — there's always something new coming out. We've had the same ovens in the North End for the last 15 years, at least. We're going with the same thing [in the Somerville expansion]. We don't want there to be any variation in the product. We want people to come into the North End, and when they go to Somerville, they walk in and say, Oh great, this tastes exactly like it used to in the North End. We're not looking to change anything with the product or the process, the way we cook the pizza."
Jeff Pond, Chef/Partner of A4 Pizza and Area Four: "Area Four was my first step at open hearth wood-fired. I had always used a baker's oven. What I learned is that there's an oven out there for every style. If you go to New York, most of those guys that are doing those big slice pies are using a Bakers Pride or a Blodgett or a Marshall — some kind of closed door oven that's just radiant heat versus open flame.
Neapolitan today is the "thing to do," and while I think our pie on some level kind of resembles the shape of a Neapolitan, it's nowhere near it because of the sourdough, because of the cook time. We cook it for three-and-a-half, four minutes versus a two-minute bake. They eat it with a fork and knife for a Neapolitan versus a New Haven-style pie, which is a pick-it-up-and-fold-it, which is kind of more what I like, so it depends on what you want out of pizza. Ours evolved — the pictures of our first pies are awful. I'm like, What were we thinking? What were doing? We kind of put all the styles in a blender. You learn a little as you go, and you change. Ours changed dramatically over the last few years, and this oven, to me, is the next step. I love this oven for a lot of reasons. I think it allows this dough to do what it needs to do.
Maine Wood Heat is the name of the company that makes the ovens; they're connected with this company out of France called Le Panyol. At Maine Wood Heat, they're builders, but the core they buy as a kit, so it's little blocks of this white clay that comes out of a part of France, and it's 100% organic, which I really like. A lot of oven builders use a type of concrete that has resin in it, and it's basically more of a refractory material, so it holds heat differently. These guys basically just wet this clay, and then they mold it, and once it dries they just crack it out of its shell, and they sell you these kits that fit together.
I had tested an oven in San Francisco, I had tested an oven in LA, I had tested an oven in Brooklyn. All of them, while cool — I was missing something. So I drove up to Maine one day to test this little oven. Maine Wood Heat has this warehouse; you walk in, and there's an oven right in the middle of it. I brought all my stuff with me and tested it, and I knew that that was the one.
The mouth of the oven's a little larger. Traditional Neapolitan oven openings are just slightly larger than 12 inches, because a traditional Neapolitan pizza is 12 inches. So typical for the Italians to say — and the French are the same way — You're going to do it this way to do it properly, so I'm going to give you an opening that's only so big so you can't do a large if you wanted to. It's just not possible.
A smaller opening allows the oven to run hotter. I wanted it to be around 700, 750 degrees Fahrenheit. The larger opening in the mouth allows me to do that. If it's smaller, it's kind of like a Ferrari. It wants to run at 950 degrees, and some of those Italian ovens, while they're amazing and I really would love to cook in one at some time — it's way too angry for me, way too fast. There's no control. 950 degrees. I mean, it's a beast. So that scares me.
This oven allows for a little more control, and coming from fine dining previously, I wanted that control a little bit. I think our dough fits our oven. We started off with the dough, and I think I found the oven to work with the dough properly."
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