Monday, April 15, 2013

Learning to Use my Wood Fire Oven!

The Artisan Bread School 2010
My culinary adventure with dough started in October 2010 when I took my first lesson (since nurse anesthesia school), a course in artisan breads at the Artisan Bread School.  Carl Shavitz, a self-taught baker and brilliant instructor, bakes for restaurants in the UK and holds week-long classes in England, Italy and the US. With both my husband's and Carl's encouragement, I had my sights set on the Le Panyol since he thought it was the best bread oven on the market.  Kevin agreed that I would get a lot of enjoyment from the wood-fire oven since baking, cooking, as well as entertaining guests are activities I thoroughly enjoy.

 My new flame:  Le Panyol 83

Fast forward two years, and I ordered my oven in June 2012. It took me four months to find a qualified masonry person who was willing to do a task as small as mine. Since its arrival in October, I'd been scouring the Internet, reading as much as I could about how to use my new toy. Needless to say, it didn't come with instructions. Along with the 2,400 pound crate, it arrived with a manila envelope that included the state requirements proclaiming the materials made were "safe for human use", and a 15-minute video of how to start a fire in the oven. Instructions on how to actually use the wood-fire oven must have gotten lost in the mail!

 Overnight Dough with 70% Hydration 

There are not that many wood-fire oven books on the market. Some of the ones that are out there have have well written oven-management instructions, but the recipes included just do not sound appetizing. The books written by chefs have recipes that sounds more appealing; while I have not tried every recipe in the book, I have cooked many meals and eaten great meals in restaurants to know if the recipe reads flavorful!

With much experimentation and night time reading, I roasted, baked, sautéed, and braised meals for three months. Since June 2012, I've added five wood-fire oven books to my culinary library collection. I've baked pizza, roasted meats (whole chicken, pork chops, sausages) roasted  vegetables (fennel, parsnips, red potatoes), and baked artisan breads (sourdoughs).  Somehow, I end up overcooking either the vegetables or the meat.  I found myself cooking the last batch of bread using a flashlight. Rather than waste time and money in overcooking meals and wondering if I'm using heat optimally, I decided to enroll in a wood-fire oven class.

I've known about The Stone Turtle Baking and Cooking School for several years now, and decided to pay them a visit!

NOTE:  The rest of the blog talks about my experience at a wood-fire oven course. This blog post goes out to those who are interested in having a wood fire oven in their back yard, are in the process of building one, or enthusiast owners like myself who are in a similar predicament as I am, wondering if what you're doing is the best practice!

School Mascot
The Stone Turtle Baking and Cooking School offers the wood-fire intensive class twice a year. It is a two-day course that focuses on oven management.  The school is located in Lyman, ME, about 30 minutes south of Portland, ME. Michael Jubinsky is the master baker and course instructor who has 45 years experience in the baking industry. With lots of baking experience, and instructional hours, he is very enthusiastic about his love for baking and sharing his knowledge.

In Remembrance
He shares his love for baking with his wife, Sandy, who is a talented artist in her own right. She painted the turtles on both sides of the oven foundation as well as a portrait of Babchi, Michael's grandmother. Thanks to Babchi, she is the reason we met here; she's the woman responsible for introducing Michael to cooking, and fueling his passion for baking and cooking so that he can teach others.

Hall and Shelly learning the basics

Day 1:
Class experiences varied from folks who already own an oven (built or purchased), who wanted to learn oven management, are in the process of buying one to have a wood-fire oven business, or wanting to expand their cooking and baking abilities with the wood-fire oven. Ultimately, everyone wanted to learn oven-management techniques

Anesthetist, Principal, Store Owner, Bakers, Doc

Building a Fire 
Step by step, Michael walked us through the steps of starting a fire. From stacking wood properly to managing a burning stack of wood until it died to ruby red embers, he explained the importance of the techniques that work for him.
"The Sandy Technique"
Cooking & Baking
Separate the colors, who knew?!
Cooked mussels in a rich garlic broth in a stainless steel pan wok and roasted chicken meat in a pair of preheated skillets. One portion was flavored with Morrocan spices (cumin, cinnamon, coriander) and the other with Italian herbs. He prefers to use dark meat, boneless thighs which are marinated overnight.  The chicken would later be used for pizza toppings. Not only did the class learn to properly stack wood to effectively start a fire, we learned to roast peppers properly. The peppers need to be moderately charred, more than what I'm used to doing in the past. I learned to separate the green peppers from the yellow and red which have more sugars, and therefore, cooks (and burns) quicker. I love to roast peppers and drizzle them with a balsamic vinegar glaze!

Piping Hot Pita Breads
Next, we shaped dough for pita bread, which must be shaped with a slight thickness in order to get the puffy rise in the end.  If spread too thin, it will not puff up and will look like a pizza dough. If too thin, it will be a different name, a naan! Shaping dough for pizza was a lot of fun. I got to practice the techniques I learned from Giulio Adriani in January. Michael demonstrated making granola.  An endless combination of fruits and nuts can be mixed, but the trick I learned is to add the dried fruit immediately after the nut mixture is out of the hot oven. With teamwork, we made enough poolish for the next day's exercise making French batards. He explained the difference between poolish, biga and a starter. After his demonstration, we all had the opportunity to shape dough for cinnamon rolls.

One advantage of taking lessons from a master baker like Michael is that he gave us knowledge that took him six years to learn, (i.e., what types of skillet pans work best, which oven gloves keeps your hands the safest.) I really appreciated his openness in sharing with us his words of wisdom!

Day 2:
Enjoyed a bounty of breakfast treats from the oven: yogurt with granola and fresh fruit, cinnamon rolls, and piping hot coffee!

Our Turn to Play:
Today, it was our turn to start the fire! It was teamwork. David assembled the wood around the edge of the oven, like a jigsaw puzzle. Each wood overlapped one another, ensuring that there was enough of a gap for air flow. Hall and I started the wood lattice in front of the oven opening, starting with large pieces of wood to medium-to-small pieces of wood, and added kindling which was lit and pushed between the large pieces of wood. After about 5 minutes, once the lattice woodwork caught on fire, Teagan pushed the entire pile of wood towards the far back. The building of fire is no big secret. It is quite similar to starting a fire in your fire place.  Although after today, everyone will develop their own technique.

Preheating the skillets
Using the poolish made the previous day, we made French batards from start to finish. Not having baked bread for almost a year, it was nice to be playing with dough once again. Hoping this class will be an impetus to get back to baking breads and pizza!  I understand the temperatures back home was in the 70s, while it ranged from 36-49 degrees here in Portland ME. Needless to say, it was a lot easier staying indoor most of the day with the cold weather.

Foolishness with Poolish
Michael demonstrated making the puff pastry which would be used to make apple tartine. Having made laminated dough for croissants, I appreciated his patience in rolling all that butter into the dough. I was exhausted just watching him but I truly appreciated his efforts once I got a bite into the delicious pastry he made for dessert!

Making breakfast 

Ultimately, the class was meant for us to learn and understand oven management.  In doing so, we got to cook wonderful breads, pizza, and vegetables along the way in order to use the oven in various temperatures.  During the higher temperatures (700-800 degrees), the vegetables were roasted (asparagus and red potatoes) and we cooked pizza.  In the 600-700 range, chicken and mussels were sautéed. In the 400-500 degree range, we baked 22 French batards. Taking advantage of the cooking temperatures, a citrus herbed and Greek herb infused lamb roast was prepared, and for dessert, a beautifully caramelized apple tartine.

Simple Pleasures in Life

Lessons Learned:
The class was a success for everyone!  We all came away with more knowledge about the oven, great recipes, and tools. For me, I have learned to be more patient with my oven and with myself!  I need to spread out my cooking and baking over several days and not try to do it all in one day!

I think this intensive course is geared for the beginner who is thinking about getting a wood fire oven or someone who is going to get one and would need instructions on how to use it.  After this class, I definitely feel more confident as a wood-fire oven owner and with organization, patience, and more practice, my family and friends will be great benefactors of wonderful foods from my hearth.

Ready to Peel
Personally, Michael gave me the answers I needed that the oven distributor did not provide. I feel as though Michael truly is an ambassador to the Le Panyol product as well as to all other wood-fire ovens in general.  His 45 years of experience in the baking industry, many years as an instructor, and most recently, as a wood-fire oven owner since 2006, show his passion in the craft of baking.

Thanks to his artistic and talented wife, Sandy and their illustrious helping staff of four, Michael was able to spend time answering our questions, offering bread-baking, pastry-making, and hearth-cooking advice throughout both days without missing a beat. And if he did miss a beat or two, Sandy was close by to lovingly remind him.

Books I Recommend:

Wood Fired Oven Cookbook (Holly and Davis Jones)  The book is thorough. Section on Lighting and Controlling a Fire (with photographs); Menu Ideas and Timing Guides,  Both from the UK, Holly is a chef and Davis, a trained baker...classic dishes, and all types of recipes (flavors of Greece, Britain, Morroco,etc..)  that are easy to cook-all geared for the WFO. Recipes for Pizzas and Many Toppings, Fish and Seafood, Veggies Meat, Breads, Puddings and Cakes.

Wood-Fired Cooking: Techniques and Recipes for the Grill, Backyard Oven, Fire Place and Campfire (Mary Karlin) A good overview of cooking options for the home cook. She has a section on Wood Fire Basics, Developing a Cooking Plan and a chart of Hardwood and Fruitwoods (flavor profile, heat level, and coaling quality). Mary Karlin is also a chef - having taught at the Culinary Institute of America in Greystone, and other culinary schools.The recipes in the book are amazing. Chapters include Baking Flatbreads and Rustic Artisan Breads, Wood Fire Grilling, Campfire Cooking, Wood Fire Roasting, Claypot and Cast Iron oven cooking, savory tarts and galettes baked on the Hearth, Low and Slow: Braising to barbecue. The recipes are rustic, wholesome, and easy. She chooses to include recipes that takes advantage of the flavors that you'll only get from a WFO.

Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way (Francis Mallman) He is a famous chef in South America - illustrating all the techniques of how food is cooked using fire. From a parrilla -cooking on a grill- similar to a Tuscan a clay oven, using embers and ashes, using an iron cross, to a cauldron.  He explains how to build a fire in your back yard and cook elaborate meals - his recipes are South American-influenced (empanadas, ribeye with chimichurri,etc,) His meals are gourmet and elaborate, compared to the others, but the preparations are worthwhile.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tony Gemignani : R.e.s.p.e.c.t.

Tony Gemignani's Mantra: Respect the Craft

After spending 3 days at the International Pizza Expo, it was easy to meet pizza celebrities since everyone was pretty much an open book and approachable. Of course, knowing who they were was another story! Tony Gemignani happened to be one of the pizza luminaries whom I knew about from YouTube. Google "pizza", "Neopolitan", "mixing dough" or some variations of it, and Tony's informative (and entertaining) clips come up. After listening to his 4 hour lecture, conversations with other attendees, and  many interviews and articles found in Google, and learning how much of his success comes not only from his natural talents and business sense, but his utmost passion in the craft of pizza making that it warranted a blog post of its own!

At the Pizza Expo, Tony Gemignani was one of the four participants in a panel called the "Million-in-One Club", who shared work experiences, trials and tribulations, advised the first time business owner and offered secrets to what made them successful operators. He has a strong business sense which is obvious in his growing empire in San Francisco, Sacramento, and soon, Las Vegas. Yet, he remains down to earth. I believe a career that started from the trenches as a pizza thrower in his brother's pizzeria, Pyzano in 1991 is what keeps him grounded today. Working his way up the ladder to be a master pizzaiolo, operator, and multi-unit owner, he remains close to his employees because he understands them. For example, while many of his employees work there because it's a job, there are those that are as passionate about pizza as he is. By offering trips to Las Vegas (the Pizza Expo) and other incentives, he keeps their energy high and passion alive. Sometimes it isn't just about the money.  Chatting briefly with one of his assistants at the demo, I found out that she is is the office manager and pizza school coordinator, Laura Meyer. Working with Tony since she was 16 years old, she easily relates to him like an older sibling and it was obvious that she had a lot of respect for the guy.

Proud of Smokevitch's Win!

Tony's Indispensable Staff
Attending Tony Gemignani's two-day workshop was one of my reasons for going to the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. I am in the beginning of my gathering phase:  learning the science of pizza making. Having just missed his Home Chef class while in San Francisco, I thought the 4 hour workshop would be a good indication of the course.  So a few weeks prior to the Expo, I purchased the cookbook, Pizza, which he co-authored with Diane Morgan in 2005, hoping that it would give me an edge. Clearly, the book was written for the home baker using a home oven and the book covered the different styles of pizza nicely which I hoped would be covered in the workshop. I didn't feel like such a novice when a few folks in the audience admitted that they had never even handled dough before.

Learning to Portion

Passionate & Perfectionist

Having a background in bread making and fermentation, the first day workshop was a fun review for me. He discussed the preferments (poolish vs. biga vs. starter) in pizza making which provide the flavor and texture just as in bread making. On the second day, he illuminated his various recipes, techniques and staging process. The workshop lecture was conversational in style, discussing what he does in his restaurants. This includes the types of flour and types of ovens he uses.  One of his admirable qualities is being a perfectionist. He wants his customer to experience what an authentic New York slice tastes like by using flour indigenous to that region using the proper oven. He personally handpicks his vendors ensuring seasonal and fresh ingredients for his restaurants.
Unleashing the Passion

After each class, a swarm of fans from the audience came to meet THE man.  Clearly, he has earned the respect from many who are fans.  Covered with tattoos around his forearms, and patches plastered all over his white chef outfit, resembling that of a celebrated NASCAR driver, many flock to his presence like a celebrity.  He is kind of the rock star of the pizza industry. I find it charming to see grown men be googly-eyed with their celebrity. After all, his claim to fame began after winning countless awards in acrobatic pizza throwing competitions and holding two Guiness Book of World Records: spinning the largest pizza and spinning the most pizzas on the back of his shoulders!

While attend the MacWorld 2013 conference in February, we rented an apartment in North Beach for the week, not knowing the place was several blocks from Tony's Pizza Napoletana! We met several locals who raved about Tony's amicable personality and amazing pizza but warned us about the long wait. After two attempts, we were able to experience several meals at Tony's and a take-out at his next-door pizzeria concept, Tony's Coal-Fired Pizza and Slice House. You will find the Ciriglio oven that Tony used to create his award-winning pizza in Naples.

Union & Stockton 

Tony's Oven

Neopolitan doughs fermenting in wooden boxes

Neopolitan crusts offered on Deruta ceramic "pie servers"

Tony's Award Winning Recipe of the Neopolitan
The facade of Tony's Pizza Napoletana has red mosaic tiled pieces, reminiscent of wood fire ovens in Naples.  The location is perfect.  Corner of Union and Stockton. Outdoor seating is available draping around Union Street. The photograph at the top (and bottom)  of this page of what looks like a rad surf board is the mural across his building on Union St. Both times, I requested to be seated next to the Cirigulio oven, the same type of wood fire oven that he used to win the Naples pizza competition. Nerd.

It was interesting to taste the Neopolitan pies in the left coast compared to my first  impressions of the Neopolitan pizzas in NYC. Trying the margherita along with other pies with more elaborate toppings, I tasted a slight tang to the crust, along with light flavors of tomato and soft mozzarella cheese. Turns out he does use a 10% starter in his Neopolitan recipe which gives the pie a nice sour dough flavor melded with the smoky flavor from the wood fire oven. Two slices went down easily, and I didn't have the feeling of fullness as I usually do after savoring a couple of servings.  

Always Striving for Excellence
For those of you ready to make the move in owning a pizzeria, or upping the ante to your current pub and brew menu, Tony offers pizza training courses at the International School of Pizza. Several tracks are available which last four days. You can choose to learn the Neopolitan Style, Italian Style which includes Classic Italian, Pizza in Teglia (Pan/Sicilian Style), and Pizza in Pala Romana (Roman Style). American Style covers New York Style, California Style and the Chicago Deep Dish Style.

As I mentioned earlier, Tony does offer a Home Chef class geared towards the serious home cook who wants to stretch their imagination beyond boboli. Offered once every quarter, he teaches several styles of dough recipes as well as cooking in different ovens including wood fire, gas, and even a home oven. Here is another pizza enthusiast who raved about his experience taking the Home Chef class with Tony!

Sicilian Style at the Workshop

I must admit that when I first heard about Tony G., I thought, hmmm, pizza acrobatic champion. That's why he's so popular!  Kind of like some star athletes who are revered  because they play sports. I'm thinking, not a whole lot of talent there. Well, I was wrong. After attending his workshop, researching his work background and qualifications, chatting with locals and employees, I have a new-found respect and understanding for him. By no coincidence, respect is a quality that Tony himself is trying to build back into the craft of pizza making.

Me & Tony!
I know, his looks are deceiving. He looks about 30 and you wonder how it's possible for someone so young to accomplish so much!  Luck would have it that he found his calling at an early age, and it certainly is determination and passion, a lot of passion, that drives someone to accomplish as much as he has. While good fortune and success can be due to some luck, much of his achievement is from his natural talents, business acumen, and passion. Truly an artisan at heart. How do you define passion? Here is Tony's definition:

  • 1991, enters the pizza industry. He partners with brother, co-owning Pyzano's Pizzeriaa in Castro Valley. He started as a pizza thrower. Tony enters his first pizza throwing competition in Las Vegas and wins. He was 18 years old. He wins both years, 1996, 1997, as the top pizza thrower in the world.
  • 2000  World Pizza Championship, Italy
  • 2001  World Pizza Championship, Italy (1st American to win)
  • Coach/Co-founder of US Team Pizza Team for 3 years. Formed World Pizza Champions, America's #1 Pizza Team.
  • 2005 Pizza, co-written with Diane Morgan. Cookbook geared towards the home baker.
  • 2006 Pizza the Movie (documentary), about the Pizza Throwing Team
  • 2-Time Food Network Pizza-Tossing Gold Medalist
  • Food Networks/Guinness Pizza Champions Challenge: Best Pizza in the US
  • Guinness Book of World Records: "Biggest Pizza" and "Most Consecutive Rolls Across the Shoulders"
  • 2007 World Champion Neapolitan Chef
  • 2009 Tony's Pizza Napoletana, North Beach opens
  • 2009 Tony and the Pizza Champions, children's book, publishes
  • 2010  Tony's CoalFired Pizza and Slice House opens
  • 2011 Pizza Rock, Sacramento opens ( gourmet pizzas and cocktails)
  • 2012 Capo, North Beach opens (Chicago Style)
  • 2013 Respect the Craft, monthly columnist, Pizza Today 

'Nuff Said