Permaculture cooking with a wood fired oven

permaculture cooking, west lexham manor, wood-fired oven, four grand-mere, FT1500 brick oven, Norfolk, brick oven, holistic retreat,

Permaculture cooking

During the lockdowns of 2020/21 we did quite a few projects for individuals and small companies setting up ‘sustainable’ lifestyles, either retreats to gain new experiences and skills or people just wanting to get away from the perceived coming of the Zombie Apocalypse!

permaculture cooking, west lexham manor, wood-fired oven, four grand-mere, FT1500 brick oven, Norfolk, brick oven, holistic retreat,
The Norfolk Beauty at West Lexham residential retreat

We met some lovely people on the way, people determined to make a difference and show how other lifestyles were possible ( see West Lexham What has come out of the last two years is that people are realising that the food system we have is broken, farmers are going out of business and consumers pay an enormous price for supermarket convenience food and the soils on which all rely are poisoned, washing away or over-fertilised. There is another way and its called Permaculture– integrated, zero waste or closed loop agriculture where reduction in energy inputs is made possible by recycling waste generated within the system and put to good use by another input.  The most well known example is converting green waste into compost that feeds and enlivens our soils.

permaculture cooking, sustainable farming, sustainable food, wood fired oven,
Bill Mollison’s seminal ‘Ferment and Human Nutrition’

One of the Grandfathers of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, actually grew up in Australia but developed his ideas in the Tropics where plants grow without seasons and even repeat crop throughout the year. Steady temperatures and high humidity have their own challenges as ecosystems continually recycle waste very quickly whereas those of us in temperate Northern Europe know very well everything needs a bit more coaxing to succeed! He wasn’t a great fan of Vegetarians or Vegans as he believed passionately that human evolution required us to have animal proteins and fats to survive in periods of crop scarcity. Not only that, animals are part of sustainable farming practices and where none exist, replacements have to be found to clear ground and eat pests. The tropics heat means preserving food by drying or fermenting is very important for those without access to expensive fridges so all those proteins and nutrients are made more easily available. The last 10 years has seen an explosion of books on Fermentation, and very important it is too for those wanting to realise foods potential for safe storage and maximum nutritional benefit.

For Permaculture cooking, wood is ultimately a sustainable carbon neutral resource and fuel, especially when you can grow it yourself. Even in temperate climates wood grows quickly for about 7-8 months of the year, roughly end of March to end of October and anybody who has seen old coppiced woods growing will know some species like Hazel and Ash grow a good metre a season. They sequester carbon in their growing cycle and release it when burnt. Despite its bad press in cities, where poor fuel quality can mean poor combustion, it remains the best fuel for cooking and heating. If you’ve travelled around rural France or rural northern Europe, you will see huge piles of split logs seasoning for use over winter, where the use of super efficient wood burners and masonry heaters is common and the costs of electricity and gas high.

Masonry heaters ( see Tulikivi amongst others) are peculiar to Northern Europe and are designed to get the most heat out of wood fuel, burning hot and fast and using masonry to absorb as much energy as possible before the flue gases escape. Some larger ones feature heat exchangers for central heating and bread ovens that are heated at the same time as the masonry, giving you a hot oven almost 24 hrs a day, perfect for impromptu baking and heating at virtually no cost!

permaculture cooking, masonry heater, tulikivi, wood fired cooking,
Tulikivi masonry heater

Cooking with home grown wood has got to be the best closed loop there is so cooking in your own wood-fired range or pizza oven ( Four Grand-Mere naturally!) has to be a go to solution if you’re thinking about de-camping to the wilds or even trying to close loops within your own patch of ground. As you may read in other posts of mine, cob ovens are a good way to get started if clay and straw are locally available and you can build under cover to keep the rain out. Otherwise, building with firebrick or getting a modular oven in place are all great alternatives and will set you on a path of resilience, not dependent on fossil fuels for energy inputs.

Remember, when I mean home grown, I mean anything dry and a hardwood- it could be prunings from garden trees and hedges, dry untreated hardwood pallets, off cuts from woodworking, really anything as long as its dry! Permaculture cooking is here to stay………



Authentic pizza, neapolitan pizza, wood fired pizza,


When we started our business in 2008, it grew organically out of a landscape design and build company that I had run for over 20 years. We had moved from London, somewhere I knew like the back of my hand, to near the old market town of Bradford on Avon where I knew no-one. It was hard work getting to know new people but the hamlet where we ended up gave us some solace, most were ex Londoners who had already made the precarious jump some 20 years before us.

We carried round our ‘London-ness’ like a badge of honour. I’m not a Cockney by any stretch but I do have a London lilt growing up in Essex/East London suburbs and living for the most part after I had left home in South east London. Local blokes took the piss, ‘awwhite mate’ they would say in pure EastEnder, I shrugged and laughed and said ‘Arrr fairrr to middlin’ in faux west country.

My point is we take our authenticity round with us as if we weren’t anything ‘true’ unless we did. The true answer is we are a whole load of different traditions and my own is a case in point. I’m half Indian and half English, half middle class Indian half poor working class South East London. A lot of people with similar mixed backgrounds choose their identity and go with one or the other only to get confused later on.

That confusion never goes away but thankfully, apart from the racist bigots who constantly remind you of what THEY think you are, most people are very accepting of ‘differentness’ and are fine with it.

AUTHENTIC PIZZA or just pizza

In 2008, all I saw was Neapolitan style ‘authentic pizza’ being pushed in the wood fired oven market, how to cook it at home in your own ‘authentic’ wood fired pizza oven at 500C. Companies like Forno Bravo had staked their business model on it and I duly bought from them and sold their ovens to my smattering of nervous customers. They had bought into a tradition and were happy.

I had travelled a good part of Italy in my 20’s and 30’s and knew that other pizza existed, the bready chewy pizza of Sicily, the rolled out thin pizza in Rome, the deep fried pizza fritta in parts of Naples, the focaccia style of the North. Pizza was supposed to have been ‘invented’ in Naples and they hold on to their tradition by law, the ‘ Disciplinare’, rules for making and cooking pizza that is protected by VPN, Vera Pizza Napoletana. The water, the flour and rising times are defined to give that unmistakeable spotty charred puffed ‘cornicione’ or crust created when cooking at around 500C.

Authentic pizza, neapolitan pizza, wood fired pizza,
Authentic as they come, Neapolitan pizza from ‘Antica Pizzeria da Michele Napoli

The reality is Italy has only been a unified country since Risorgimento in 1871 and all the multi cultural peoples who have loved and worked and travelled around the former disparate states finally found they had all been unified into one country. All their combined traditions fed into what is now ‘authentic’. I despair but completely understand these hankerings for rules.

Jump to 2021, a lot has changed, pizza has travelled the world, the VPN still exists but the first thing I’m asked when a customer makes contact is “can I make a Neapolitan pizza at 500C in one of your ovens”.

Yes of course you can if that’s what you want to do BUT don’t get hung up on it. Customers see ‘authentic’ Neapolitan wood fired ovens online, with round dome and external smoke hood usually with mosaic or tiles and think they’ve got to have the same oven to reproduce the same style of cooking.

Well yes if you’re in Naples, maybe you have to, but rules are there to be broken and the new generation of chefs running restaurants are pushing the definition……..Check out fine dining restaurants like I Tigli in Verona and you’ll see where the pizza ‘tasting’ trend is heading and Trapizzino, pushing pizza back to its street food origins in Rome, Milan and now NYC.


Most good quality wood-fired ovens  like our own Four Grand-Mere wood fired or gas ovens will cook a Neapolitan pizza because its only part of the story. The dough and how its prepared is also very important; the proofing time and temperature, quality of flour and its protein content whether you add olive oil and even the pH of the water you use.

Authentic pizza, neapolitan pizza, wood fired pizza, wood fired oven,
Cooking pizza at 300C in a Four grand-mere brick oven
‘Authentic’ pizza at 300C

The reality of actual commercial restaurant pizza making at 500C is that the pizzaiolo has very little time to cook more than one at a time as it will cook so fast that it has to be kept moving if its not to burn. Run the oven at 400C there is a fighting chance you can cook 2-3, at 350-375C maybe 5-6. The result will be exactly the same but when you’ve got large table groups to feed, cooking 5-6 may be a necessity.

Authentic pizza, neapolitan pizza, wood fired pizza, I Tigli,
I Tigli new wave pizza leading a trend change

The trend is for change. Like the Neapolitans before, keep some traditions alive but try new forms. The pizza as we know it won’t be going away but chefs are now rediscovering new flavours and food combinations that were previously thought of as heresy. Keep the ingredients the best quality you can afford, organic and fresh if possible and you’ll be rewarded with your own take on a little slice of Italy!




living and cooking outside, outdoor cooking, outdoor pizza oven, outdoor kitchen,

cooking outside, outdoor living, outdoor kitchens,

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.

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horse box pizza oven,Leather and Willow, Grand Flamme, 1030CC+ pizza oven, mobile catering, wood-fired oven, four grand-mere, 5 star pizza,
mobile catering,leather and willow, horse box pizza oven, pizza oven, wood-fired oven, pizza cooking, F1030CC+, four grand-mere, pizza on the go, 5 star pizza,
pizza cooking inside the 1030CC+ the oven of choice for mobile catering

Mobile catering and brilliant 5☆ pizza!

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.

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bread baking, bakery ovens, rotating hearth
bakery oven,farnham pottery
Bakery oven

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.

bakery oven, wood-fired oven, bread oven,
Firing a fixed hearth oven at the Weald and Downland living museum

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.

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oven with two entry arches, pizza oven, four grand-mere, wood-fired oven

Pizza oven with two entry arches!

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.

pizza oven with two entry arches, pizza oven, wood-fired oven, two doors, four grand-mere,
rotating hearth pizza oven with two entry arches, one open the other at the back with glass

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.

see these variations as tech sheets-

oven with two entry arches, four grand-mere, wood-fired oven
F800 2ENT 180
oven with two entry arches, four grand-mere, wood-fired oven
F800 2 ENT 90


oven with two entry arches, four grand-mere, wood-fired oven
F800 2ENT 135
















ALFRED, wood-fired oven, pizza oven, contemporary design
ALFRED, pizza oven, wood-fired oven
ALFRED with pizza


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…..

The original Alfred with Robin                                                                        © 20th Century Fox

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-

ALFRED – The whole package

ALF – Just the top half with no legs and wood store. Designed to sit on a surface.

FRED – The package less the wood store

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.

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Outdoor Kitchen design- building excellence….

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.

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pizza oven, wood-fired oven, lime render, Bath stone, choosing buying pizza ovens

Choosing buying pizza ovens

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-

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four grand-mere wood-fired oven dome height

Dome height- standard or raised?

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.

Four Grand-Mere raised brick pizza oven
Raised oven-the bottom two courses of bricks create the extra 75mm

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