Cooking outside- an introduction to the benefits and problems
Gardens are changing! Despite the vagaries and unpredictability of the Great British climate, it has become clear over the last 10 years that peoples’ attitude to their gardens has undergone a huge shift in priority; from the delicate balancing act of the various demands put on them from families to a more complex integration of interior and exterior life.
Contemporary garden design seeks to rebalance that life making a seamless transition between in and out whilst still making the most effective use of exterior spaces.
Whether you’ve a small courtyard in a new-build estate or a large country garden, the resolution of competing demands on the garden is the professional designers job, creating spaces that reflect your way of life in a sustainable, ethical way by using materials and technologies that have the least environmental impact.
Gardens should be havens of peace and quiet, simple in design but complex in possibilities, a solace from the bustle of everyday life and rich in texture, colour, fragrance and form.
We get a lot of enquiries from catering companies hoping to set up a mobile pizza business in order to cash in on a still growing market for wood-fired pizza at weddings, festivals and public spaces without having the set up costs of a permanent restaurant.
Van or Trailer?
Mobile catering set ups need a van or at least a powerful enough vehicle to pull a heavy trailer so you’ve got to choose between having your whole set up in a van with a pop up side or using the van as a store for all the equipment you need and having a separate trailer with your pizza oven on or in it.
“When I left school, I worked for a market trader who had a small shop on Walthamstow’s Hoe Street market in East London and we had to load his box trailer every saturday and sunday to work Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire and Wembley in West London.
It was hard work loading everything we needed: all the stock, boxes of shoes, display racks and even a carpet for punters to walk on in comfort. Loaded early, taken to the market, unloaded and set up, knocked down at the end of the day and then back to the shop to unload again.”
Mobile catering is sort of the same, except for the unloading of stock. Instead you’ll be unloading a gazebo ( pretty essential given the weather), prep tables, menu boards, saladiers ( for holding your ingredients) and some sort of cash machine. On top of that, a portable fridge, a container for fresh water for cleaning up and washing hands, storage for the dough trays, tools and logs, possibly some lights and then you’ve got to power it all with a clean running generator.
Bakery oven – the possibilities are endless with Four Grand-Mere
Above you can see a bakery oven we built at Farnham Pottery in Surrey, artfully shot in sepia tone to make it look timeless. The installation is on our project page tab here and shows a brick clad Four Grand-Mere F1500 brick oven designed to look like one of the original brick bottle kilns that have survived on site. It is small by bakery oven standards, only 1500Lx950W but as a community enterprise, our brief was people should find it easy to use and not hard to fill on a single bake.
Bakery ovens were traditionally of fixed hearth design, where a fire would be set on the hearth and kept going until the mass of the oven was charged with heat. Once swept and cleaned of all embers, the baker could then load the proofing loaves into the oven when happy that the heat was stable enough to bake.
The problem with this style of baking is that the baking loaves would draw heat from the mass of the oven and leave the baker no option but to eventually fire up the oven again, effectively stopping the bakers output.
The solution was found with the advent of the ‘Gueulard’ oven, a clever innovation where the heat was generated from burning wood in a separate firebox, usually under the hearth but occasionally to the side and the hot flames would enter the oven via a cast iron tube called a gueulard . This enabled the baker to keep the temperature up without stopping baking so increasing the output if there was the demand. Here is a quick video of a gueulard in operation…..
The limitations of this method are small but if the bakers demand is high, as in wholesale baking, then the next logical step is to have a rotating hearth so that loaves can be loaded and unloaded continuously as each baking period ends- load new loaves in as baked loaves come out.
One of the exciting things about working with Four Grand-Mere as an oven manufacturer is the innovations and variations on themes they come up with. Take for instance the Campagnard 800mm internal diameter wood-fired oven- it can come in standard dome height, raised dome height, in brick or chamotte but did you know it can also come in a variation with two entry arches!
Why would I need an oven with two entry arches I hear you ask……consider the situation where you have two rooms adjoining each other, one inside the house, the other an outdoor room attached to the same wall.
Or perhaps just an outside wall of a house where you want one entrance in the kitchen and the other outside or maybe a restaurant where you’d like the customers to see the flames and what your cooking facing the seating rather than the kitchen.
Why doesn’t the heat built up from firing just disappear out of the other entrance? In the examples above the other entrance is shut off with an insulated door or a heat-stable glass door.
Four Grand-Mere make 3 variations- 90° 180° or 135° with the 90 and 135 facing left or right.
Many thanks to Chris and family in Fowey for permission to post the photos to the gallery below. We sold this oven in 2017 and have only got the photos sent over in the last few weeks! Chris installed the oven himself and we think he’s made a great job of it!
Hopefully it will inspire you that anything is possible with Four Grand-mere- we have seen one of our large commercial ovens with two entrances in France, one for the chef the other with a glass panel so customers can watch the cooking.
Like Batman and Robin’s white haired, faithful retained butler, father figure and confidante to the Wayne family, ALFRED is your old reliable friend and helper in an updated form…..
In 2018, we were sent details of a new small wood-fired oven that ticks all the boxes for the modern terrace-
☑︎Modern ☑︎ Funky ☑︎ Neat ☑︎ Small ☑︎Easy to assemble ☑︎Competitively priced
Of course we were very excited to see a new product from Four Grand-Mere but this was superbly designed and specifically targeted at more contemporary garden spaces. Based on Le Flamme, a 700mm internal diameter all chamotte oven, ALFRED is even designed to be marketed in three sections-
Weighing in at 220kg, it is still quite a beast to move around, but once set up it does have three adjustable feet on the sturdy treated Douglas Fir legs to level the oven on uneven paving slabs such as riven stone. The other nice feature is the Vitroceram heat-resistant glass so you can watch your food cooking.
Outdoor kitchen design has moved on by leaps and bounds over the last 5 years, with sleek modernist schemes at one end of the budget spectrum and man shacks at the other. They are entirely scalable depending on budget and expectations so compromises on materials and appliances affect the overall spend.
A lot of our work comes from high end developers and luxury house builders who have built private houses or flats and have had requests for outdoor kitchens from their clients. A significant number are for private customers contacting us directly who have more limited budgets but who appreciate the quality and breadth of our projects.
With origins in sunny California in the US , you would think that we were kidding ourselves about our climate to even contemplate spending large amounts of money on trying to cook outside. Some of our clients do want some sort of roof covering but most want quite elaborate schemes plein air, not worrying about a spot of rain occasionally.
Its a complicated business these days, so I’ve put this little guide together as even though I thought I had made all the information on my website as clear as possible, I still get phone calls to clarify a number of issues that arise when choosing buying pizza ovens for home use.
There are quite a few brands on the internet now, all competing for a slice of the relatively small UK market, with different price points and consequent quality of build. Some are ready-made whilst others are in modular form requiring assembly on site, some are high mass heavy heat-resistant concrete( chamotte), others are lightweight stainless steel with very little mass to retain heat.
With all this sometimes confusing choice, I think its best to break down what is available without mentioning individual brands and try and make sense of what’s out there. Surprisingly some people still don’t think through their purchases until its too late- buying an oven that is impossible to lift or not being able to get it through a garden gate!
Before I get started on the details of choosing buying pizza ovens please remember a few basic rules when buying almost anything-
When looking through our Four Grand-Mere (lit. ‘Grandmothers oven’) wood fired and gas fired ovens list you’ll notice that we offer not only our standard dome height and arch entry but also an optional raised version (marked with the code -H+) that is 75mm higher.
Following on from my post about smoke-control-areas I thought I’d put down a few thoughts about firewood species for baking in a wood-fired oven and the importance of reducing the moisture content as low as practically possible.
Wet wood doesn’t burn!
All the nonsense you’ve ever read about clearing woodland in temperate Europe by setting it alight is just that, nonsense. Trying to burn standing timber or even under-storey wood is, as the late Oliver Rackham points out, “like trying to burn wet asbestos”. ( History of the Countryside p72 Dent 1986). Historical references to burning woodland normally refer to charcoal burning, a widespread industry that was both local and semi industrial in scale.
Britain is not the highly flammable pine forested Mediterranean nor has redwood or eucalyptus forests that have fire as part of their lifecycle.
The widespread notion that Britain was largely untamed wildwood well into historical times doesn’t bear any close examination either- there is plenty of evidence that by the Roman occupation, Britain was only about 15-20% woodland, about the same as modern rural France.
Woodland soils in lowland Britain are generally more fertile than tropical rain forests and probably supported small clearings of crops for short periods with men clearing small wood with grazing animals and stone tools.
The great clearances were probably Neolithic to Bronze Age but even now there is very little evidence as how they managed it, the labour involved and how long it took. We know from their legacy of stone monuments and track ways that they were very well organised and must have worked co-operatively in large numbers. Undoubtedly, it is one of the greatest agricultural achievements ever.
Following the announcement from London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, that he will be reviewing the impact of wood-fired appliances in the region it seems timely to look at the alternatives( gas-pizza-ovens) given the high and often illegal levels of airborne particulate pollution.
The Clean Air Act was enacted in 1956 as a direct result of life threatening smogs arising from urban industrial output and coal-fired domestic fireplaces . With amendments in 1968 and more recently in 1993 with later revisions in David Cameron’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’, the government has sought to control pollution but at the same time cut bureaucratic interference in day to day business operations.
The initial impetus to control pollution was the burden of dark smoke with high particulate levels that was causing health to decline rapidly in the 50’s. The concept of clean burning appliances was enacted in law so that DEFRA, the government department in charge of policing pollution, could create an ‘exempt appliance’ list, appliances that had met targets for particulate output and enabled business to carry on in a more environmentally friendly way within Smoke Control Areas.
Although industrial pollution and coal burning has fallen dramatically over the last 50 years, transport has grown exponentially and has largely negated the gains in clean air in all our major cities.
With cars, buses, heavy goods lorries and trains all now contributing to the particulate load via diesel engines, wood-burning appliances have now been singled out as a major contributory factor in modern pollution.
Wood-burning stove use has also increased exponentially as wood is carbon neutral unlike fossil fuels and is the the ultimate ‘eco’ fuel when burned in an ‘exempt appliance’- low emissions when the fuel is dried below 20% moisture.
Unfortunately, wood as a resource is completely unregulated in its supply- some log deliveries could be seasoned and be still 30-50% moisture others 20% or less. A few companies have challenged this with fuel that is kiln dried and guaranteed less than 20% before delivery, others have sought to use compressed wood waste in the form of ‘heat logs’ to reduce the moisture content even further.
The issue now is these fuels and appliances are being called into question as part of this new review and it looks like wood burning may be outlawed altogether even though wood smoke is the raison d’etre for many authentic cooking cuisines like pizza and grills.