Wood-Fired Pizza Ovens and Other Food Dreams

published Sep 5, 2013

I try to practice gratefulness every day; aware of and thankful for all the things I have. It’s a good life skill. However, it doesn’t mean I don’t also have dreams, fantasies and aspirations. Especially when it comes to kitchens.

Homemade pizza is a regular event in our house, and I more than make do with a pizza stone trimmed down to fit in my 24-inch apartment-sized oven with a power drill sander attachment. It barely reaches 500 degrees, but still we crank out serious pizza. That said, a longstanding dream has been to build a wood-fired pizza oven.

I’ve cooked in many pizza ovens—a centuries’ old one in Tuscany, a family oven in Maine, and a few belonging to friends with larger back yards than my own—but last weekend was my first time cooking in one so new, it still smelled like mortar. I felt a strange sense of responsibility, as if my hands, and the scrape of my pizza peel were baptizing this holy structure.

This coming weekend is Molly O’Neill’s Longhouse Food Revival, a gathering of food thinkers, makers and writers. Molly and her team spent the last year converting an old barn into a state-of-the-art kitchen, including an outdoor spit and wood-fired oven. Last weekend she invited me up for a visit, and I ended up cooking pizzas for twelve people one night and seventeen the next. (I couldn’t send them out fast enough, and wondered how this weekend that oven will feed two hundred!)

Sweating and grinning in the dark in front of that oven with my assembly line of toppings and a raging 900 degree fire, I started thinking about culinary aspirations, the things we shoot for in our eating and cooking. There are behavioral and philosophical aspirations (eat more local and seasonal, say more blessings before meals, snack less) and there are material aspirations like my desire for a larger sink, or a pizza oven. All of them are about striving to cook more often, more comfortably, and with more skill and flavor and an overall hope for a better life.

Of course, you don’t need better stuff to cook better. But when you get a taste of something you don’t have—whether it be the Cadillac of pizza ovens, or a meal made entirely from local food—you start to feel the possibilities of making dreams reality.

What are your aspirations? What have you always wished for? What are you afraid to wish for out loud?

(Image: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)