With the ability to reach high temperatures while offering consistency and stability, pizza ovens are in high demand at Italian and other restaurants. Although they represent a substantial investment, their long life spans and versatility often make them a worthwhile investment, says Michelle Cheng
Despite its name, the pizza oven can do a lot more than just baking pizza. James Garton, Wood Stone Corporation’s director of international business development and corporate chef explains that while they can be used to sauté, slow roast and braise, many hotels and restaurants are looking for ovens that can be used for all three meals in the day.
“Bacon and eggs in the morning, pizza and pasta for lunch, roasted vegetables and grilled meats for dinner. Anything you use a normal conventional oven for can also be produced in a Wood Stone oven but with better visuals for the customer and ease for the chef.”
Pizza ovens are surprisingly handy when it comes to cooking a wide range of dishes. “BakePartner’s ovens can be used for everything that you can cook in a conventional oven, even Arabic bread,” insists Mansour Rashidi, vice-president sales and marketing. While main markets include China, Thailand, Singapore, Iran and Turkey, the company sells to more than 130 countries.
Beech Ovens offers duck ovens, tandoors for naan and skewer cooking, dedicated roasting (rotisserie ovens), bread ovens, feature grills including parilla, churrascos, fish grills, robata and shawarma. Its director of international sales and engineering, Stephen Trood adds: “We often refer to our ovens as ‘stone hearth’ ovens to emphasise the versatility of cooking directly on a stone hearth (floor) surface. Clients enjoy a wide variety of cooking styles in our ovens including grilling, sautéing, frying, baking, roasting and, of course, pizza baking.”
What you pay …
Quality equipment can be costly; therefore it is vital end-users weigh up the whole package when making purchasing decisions. Garton believes you get what you pay for, “Our ovens are certainly efficient, but the overall key is that when you buy a Wood Stone oven, you don’t just buy an oven.”
Wood Stone offers 24-hour support where you speak to a Wood Stone engineer wherever you are in the world. “We also have stock ovens ready for sale in our Hong Kong warehouse.”
Beech Ovens’ Trood agrees that buying a versatile pizza oven should be seen as an investment. “Flexibility with the design, size, shape and accessory options and how the oven is integrated into the kitchen is the key. Menu items change often and having an oven that will allow cooking versatility is most attractive to end-users. Comprehensive after sales support is also an important link in the chain.”
Jeff Follick, general manager of Catering Depot Inc, believes pizza ovens have changed dramatically over the past 15 years.
“Previously, we saw a huge hulk of a machine in the kitchen for the traditional stone deck pizza oven. So only those truly dedicated to pizza has such a specific oven.”
But technology has advanced and different components of a pizza oven have improved, he suggests.
“More ultra-stable heating elements along with the proliferation of man-made, custom-sized deck stones (soles) have transformed the pizza oven from a large investment to a much more manageable cooking choice. From single pizza ovens to single deck, there are more choices than ever. For as little as HK$5,000 (US$645), you can purchase a superb oven.”
Another popular element pizza ovens offer is the aesthetic effect. Beech Ovens offers a wide variety of stone hearth ovens for various cooking styles. “The attraction of adding ‘theatre’ to a kitchen with flames and/or a visual aspect to the cooking process is appealing to many restaurant types,” Trood says.
“Wood-fired and gas-assist ovens appeal to the visual aspect, and electric stone hearth ovens have also increased in demand due to changing gas regulations in China.”
Follick agrees on the growing significance of pizza oven design. Not only is it for the looks, a good design is vital to a hassle-free build-in process, he suggests.
“Fantastic new man-made stone that mimics traditional stone mean custom sizes, shapes and designs are now much easier. So you can build in, build up and around the new ovens. This makes for some snazzy installations that look great too.”
Being able to use the pizza oven for a wide range of items is a quality that is growing increasingly attractive to various end-users in Asia, especially small restaurateurs. “What we can do with these traditional pizza ovens has changed,” Follick adds.
“The crown height of a pizza oven is shorter than a bakery deck oven [so can usually only be used with] a not so tall item, such as pizza, which is easy to load and unload. In the past, you had to move, twist and turn the pizza on the deck to get an even cook. But the better quality ovens today are more stable and have a full ‘end-to-end’ cook ability, so you can do breads, egg tarts and many other pan or wok-roasted items.”
Wood Stone’s Garton says: “End users want reliability and predictable cooking zones for a wide range of applications and specialist restaurants, offering an in-oven grill or broiler to give flexibility to the user. The applications are endless.”
Its current best seller is their FD9660, which is used predominantly by big players in US pizza chains. “These concepts are now filtering into the Asian marketplace and beyond, and continue to reinforce that pizza is the fastest growing foodservice sector in the world. Many of these concepts are in tune with healthy eating, organic food, locality, sustainable practices and lifestyles which are now demanded throughout the sector.”