Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Forno Bravo Wood Fired Ovens Interview with James

This interview originally appeared in Pizza News from

I was fortunate enough to get James of to take a few minutes out of his work day for an interview. James shared how he got his start making pizza: using a pizza stone.

Albert: Hi James you are the owner of . Can you tell me
a little bit about your company and products?

James: Hi Albert. Thanks for having me on Pizza News. I love your
site -- which is how we met.

Forno Bravo specializes in wood-fired pizza ovens, brick oven accessories and pizza ingredients. We have a range of pizza oven types and sizes for the home owner, including pizza oven kits, real brick ovens, and fully assembled ovens.

Typically, residential pizza ovens are between 31" and 43" -- large enough to cook multiple pizza at a time, but still easy to manage and fast to heat up. Our ovens, tools and pizza ingredients are all made in Italy -- and they let the American pizza chef make world-class pizza at home.

Albert: How did you get interested in wood fired ovens?

James: I got into wood-fired ovens the same way most Pizza News readers
got interested in making pizza -- I started with a pizza stone.

After doing that for a while, I was ready for the next step. There were plans you could buy for building a brick bread oven, so I got a set and built the oven. It was great learning experience.

The oven design is wrong, but it was great having a real wood-fired oven. I went ahead and put one in our kitchen/great room, and I was hooked. Cooking in a wood-fired oven is one of life's real pleasures.

Our ovens are designed to cook at about 750F -- making the perfect 2-3 minute pizza.

Albert: I understand you had some training and visits to Italy can
you tell me about that? Is it true that for Italians, having a wood fired oven is as common as the American Barbecue?

James: As a cooking enthusiast, one of the first things you notice when you
are in Italy is that there are brick ovens everywhere -- particularly in Tuscany. We lived in Florence for two years while we were starting up Forno Bravo.

For example, daughters were invited to birthday parties through their school -- and 4 of the first 5 houses we visited has brick ovens. Both of our neighbors had ovens, and when I was installing an oven at our rental house, the garden came up and introduced himself, and proceeded to tell me about his oven, and how I should install my oven.

The firewood company we used had a regular delivery schedule for 30 wood-fired restaurants just in the neighborhood south of the Arno.

There are a number of options for learning to make great pizza. I took lessons from a handful of schools and teachers in and around Florence. But the real home for pizza is Naples, where there are 1500 wood-fired pizzerias in the city itself.

You can take lessons and become a professional pizzaiolo -- but it takes time. A number of Forno Bravo owners have taken the one-week class, and they all say that a week just isn't long enough.

Albert: You really are a champion of wood fired ovens, is it true that you sell / give away plans to build your own oven?

James: My goal is to grow the English speaking community of people who
have and love wood-fired ovens. That is why we give away plans for building a real Italian wood-fired oven. It is called the Pompeii Oven, after the great ovens excavated in ancient Pompeii. A large number of Pompeii ovens have been built all around the world
from our plans.

The plans are on, and a group of owners are putting together a PDF version. It is like the open source software movement, where the plans are freely available (though of course still the property of Forno Bravo). There is a Pompeii Oven link on every page of the Forno Bravo web site.

We also have an excellent user group, where anyone with a brick oven
or a pizza stone is welcome. The group talks about pizza, ovens, bread, dough, pizza ingredient and everything else to do with brick ovens. You can find that group at

Albert: What are some of the benefits to owning a wood fired oven?

James: To put is simply, wood-fired ovens cook wonderfully. The refractory material that makes up the oven absorbs the heat of the fire to create a hot and moist cooking environment. Also, wood-fired ovens breath, drawing in cold air from the bottom of opening and exhausting hot air out the top half. This creates natural convection.
You can cook anything you would cook in a conventional oven, and it will come out better.

Plus, there are many dishes that need high heat and simultaneous top and bottom heat -- such as pizza, that can only be cooked in brick oven. You can roast meat, grill chops, steaks and vegetables, and bake fish and gratin dishes that are unbelievable. Of course brick ovens are famous because of how well they bake bread.

Albert: Do you own your own wood fired oven? What do you cook in it?

James: We have three at our house in Healdsburg. One outside, one
inside, and a demonstration kitchen for Forno Bravo. We also installed brick
ovens at both of our rental houses in Italy. I haven't been without one for years -- rain or shine. I fire an oven at least a couple of times a week, and I often bake bread on weekends.

We always enjoy pizza, and we have two daughters (7 and 12) that have become
expert pizzaiolos. I like fish, and enjoy putting together entire meals that
come out of the wood-fired oven. For example, grilled shrimp and flatbread to start, followed by a layered baked cod with celery, carrots and onion below, mushrooms with Dijon mustard above topped with arugula, a side dish of baked leak gratin, and baked figs with Greek yogurt and honey for dessert. All out of the oven. It's wonderful.

Albert: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about purchasing / building a wood fired oven?

James: My first advice is to take the plunge and get an oven. They are
not as expensive as they used to be in the states, and it is not that difficult to install one. I would also recommend doing background research on the oven itself. There are many oven producers in Italy, and the range of quality between the various ovens can be pretty
substantial. So while they might look the same, they are not made from the same grade of material.

For example, our producer is Italy's largest (by a wide margin) and they have the technology and economies of scale to make all of their ovens from an engineered refractory material -- both the commercial and residential ovens. That is important because the better the material, the faster the oven heats up, the longer it holds heat and the longer it will last. The Forno Bravo residential ovens heat up in as little as 40 minutes which is pretty remarkable. At the other end of the scale, there are "clay" and "terra cotta" oven made from natural clays.

If a pre-cast oven is out of your budget range, you should also consider building Pompeii oven. If you do the work yourself, you can install an oven for less cost. Our Pompeii oven builders are all thrilled with the result.

Albert: I understand you recently started to offer pizza products
at (and also gets a cut whenever someone buys through this link > hint, hint!) tell me what is in your catalogue?

James: Yes, we recently created the Forno Bravo Store, where you can
purchase Caputo pizza flour, San Marzano tomatoes, Sicilian oregano,
capers, Italian anchovies, along with pizza peels, oven accessories,
professional-grade pizza stone -- even our ovens. Pizza is all about the ingredients.

The basic Margherita pizza has flour, tomatoes, Mozzarella, olive oil and oregano. That's all there is. That is why the quality of the ingredients, along with your technique and
your oven (or stone), are so important.

If you use wonderful ingredients, your pizza will be noticeably better.

Albert: Tell me how you were able to form a partnership with Caputo
flour, the most famous pizza flour in the world?

James: Like a lot of Pizza News readers, I had heard about Caputo
flour from searching the Internet and reading cookbooks. The problem was that the flour was only available in 55lb bags, and primarily through wholesalers, some of whom don't sell to the public.

So we got in touch with the company, and found that they are a gracious and well- run organization. Antico Molino Caputo has been run by the Caputo family for three generations, and is how headed by Antimo, the founder's grandson. They say that over half of the 1500 pizzeria in Naples use Caputo flour.

The list of accolades for Caputo flour is very long, from the Verace, Pizza Napoletana association, which recommends Caputo on its official web site, to Peter Reinhart, who uses it in his pizza cooking classes. It turns out that many of the "world's best pizzas" in Reinhart's book American Pie, use Caputo flour.

I met with Enzo Coccia, Naple's top pizzaiolo trainer, in central Naples, and we drove to the mill on his motorcycle (past his brother's pizzeria). We toured the mill and their laboratory -- where he tests grains from all over the world to be blended into
their flour.

We at pizza and Mozzarella and talked about the American market. They saw the opportunity, and are now packing the Caputo Blue Tipo 00 flour (Ideale per pizze) in 1kg (2.2lb) bags.

Today, you can buy either a 5-pack of the 2.2lb bags, or a 55lb bag from -- at reasonable prices.

The flour really is as nice as everyone says, and a growing number of
people have started ordering it regularly.

Albert, thanks for the opportunity to talk with you.

Albert: Thank-you James.


Get caputo flour.

And here is a great video of how to fire up a Forno Bravo Wood Fired Oven:

pizza all over Forno Bravo,


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