Friday, November 29, 2013

The Mighty Pizza Oven Interview

"..I kept on thinking of ways to build my ideal pizza oven – an oven that would be easy to operate, maintain and transport, and one that would simulate the heating and cooking characteristics of a brick oven..."
Bert Touma, Creator of The Mighty Pizza Oven

The Mighty Pizza Oven

Albert: Here is an interview with Bert Touma the inventor of the  Mighty Pizza Oven.
Bert was very open and honest as he reveals the secrets of his creation.

How did you get into making pizza?
Bert: I grew up in Lebanon eating flat pita. Back then, I didn’t know that pita was a distant relative of one of the most popular foods in the world. Also we had Manaeesh, a popular Lebanese food consisting of dough topped with thyme, cheese, or ground meat. Manaeesh is quite similar to a pizza and can be eaten sliced or folded, so it was little wonder that, when I immigrated to the US back in 1982, pizza became my favorite food. Eventually, making pizza would become my passion — a hobby I enjoyed as often as I could.
Albert: How did you come up with the idea?
Bert: My friends and family always enjoyed the pizzas I made from scratch, but it took lots of time preparing and baking. Over the years, I tried to cut down on preparation time by using better tools and techniques.
One thing I couldn’t improve is my oven heat. I knew the importance of baking pizzas at a very high temperature (much higher than my home oven could manage) in order to cook the dough and ingredients quickly without drying them out.
In search of higher baking temperatures, I found that wood-fired ovens are the best kind of oven for baking pizza because they bake in three ways simultaneously: by means of conductive heat, reflected heat and convective heat transfer. But a wood-fired oven wasn’t for me. I just wanted something practical that I could turn on and off easily – something movable, affordable, and that didn’t occupy too much of my back yard. I found a few oven designs that I liked from overseas suppliers, but they weren’t cost effective once I included price of shipping.
Still, I kept on thinking of ways to build my ideal pizza oven – an oven that would be easy to operate, maintain and transport, and one that would simulate the heating and cooking characteristics of a brick oven: conductive heat, reflected heat and convective heat.
December 2011, an idea popped into my head as I was ordering a burger at a cafeteria. I watched the chef cover the meat patty with a basting cover and started thinking of building a pizza oven that combined the features of a basting cover and those of brick oven.
Albert: Did you build a few different prototypes? How did you decide on the final design?
Bert: To implement my basting cover idea, the first thing I needed was a heat source, and using my gas grill for the purpose was a no brainer. Plus it would give my underutilized grill a new purpose in life. The grill produces lots of heat, the main ingredient for a perfect pizza.
I used to use a ceramic stone when baking pizzas in my home oven. Pizza stones store heat and pass it on to the pizza, replicating the conductive properties of a brick oven. However, I couldn’t use my ceramic pizza stone directly on my grill because ceramic cannot tolerate sudden extreme changes in temperature and cracks when it comes in contact with fire.  So I used an aluminum pizza pan as a separator, to protect the stone.
I replicated the heat that is reflected off the walls and top of a brick oven by using a round, deep cake pan as a cover. The problem was that it did not reflect enough heat, so I fixed this by adding another pizza stone above the pizza being cooked, to store and reflect more heat from on top.
My first prototype worked well, but there was still room for improvement, especially as regards the type of pizza stones I was using. The top stone wasn’t getting hot enough because it didn’t get any direct heat and I actually broke few stones by accidentally getting them exposed to direct flames.
Luckily at that time, Cordierite pizza stones became popular, affordable and easy to find in multiple sizes. Cordierite is a material that is even more durable than ceramic and that can withstand direct contact with the grill’s flames. Just what I needed! This allowed me to increase the upper stone size to store and refract more heat, and I could now place the bottom cordierite pizza stone right on the flames, using the grill’s heat more efficiently. My oven design became simpler and more effective.
Still, I wasn’t completely happy with the results; I needed even more heat, so I replaced the round cake pan with a square one and used a square top stone to capture and store as much heat as possible for baking top side of the pizza pie.
This was definitely an improvement, and yet there was one last thing missing: convective heat. Brick ovens have a vent and chimney system that draws hot moist air from outside and passes it over the pizzas, cooking them faster while preventing the topping ingredients from drying out. To reproduce this, I cut an opening in the pan to act as a chimney.
And oh boy, what a difference it made! Everything finally came together.
I was extremely happy to find that my homemade Mighty Pizza Oven prototype allowed me to bake better pizzas faster. It really took my pizza experience and skills to a whole new level. My pizzas now tasted so much better, even though I was still using a food processor recipe book and a rough measuring technique.
Now that I had all the right tools, baking delicious pies became as simple as preparing any other homemade meal! Why did you decide to invent the MPO?
Bert: I soon realized my prototype oven could really be useful to other pizza enthusiasts like me, who wanted to cook top quality pizza without spending huge amounts of money on a pizza oven. I was also excited at the thought of doing something I really enjoyed, and which could hopefully become a steady source of income to replace my engineering income that has not been steady in the last few years.
Albert: Have you invented anything else?
Bert: I have not invented anything else, but I have many ideas that I hope one day to develop.
Albert: What is your favorite pizza?
Bert: I do not have a favorite, I have enjoyed eating while experimenting baking different type of pizza with MPO like NY pizza, deep dish and Neapolitan.
Albert: Can you share a favorite recipe with us?
Bert: Here is a link to my favorite dough recipe on my website
Albert: Do you have any pizza tips for the home pizza maker?
Bert: Keep open minded to others ideas, tips and techniques to improve your pizza making skills, here is a link to few tips and techniques I started on my website. I am always looking for something new to try out myself!
Albert: I understand you can cook more than pizza with the MPO. Do you cook these items directly on the pizza stone?
Bert: The MPO can also be used to cook much more than pizza. For example, you can grill vegetables or meat using a griddle instead of the Mighty Pizza Oven’s bottom stone or just use grill grates with no stone. This is an exciting new angle that I am starting to explore, with great results so far.
Basting cover is used to concentrate the heat to bake food under it faster. Think of MPO as a basting cover on steroid, your food is being cooked from all sides at the same time especially top and bottom., so for example when grill steak under MPO, your steak top is being cooked due to MPO top stone extremely high temperature (over 600 deg f). So when you flip your steak you will not lose as much juices as you normally do.
Albert: I understand you tried to fund raise the launch of the MPO. How did that go?
Bert: As anyone who has ever launched a project on Kickstarter can tell you, the hardest part is getting enough exposure and traffic to your project in the few weeks the campaign lasts. While I got several pledges for the Mighty PizzaOven in the first few days, I unfortunately did not manage to build up enough momentum early on to take the Kickstarter campaign all the way to its funding goal.
This is just a minor hurdle and I am currently looking at other ways to market and sell the Mighty Pizza Oven.
Albert: How were you able to get listed on Amazon?
Bert: It wasn’t difficult, I was time consuming due to Amazon requirements. I have the mighty pizza oven pizza peel sold and shipped by Amazon. I am hoping to do the same with MPO, which is currently listed on Amazon but shipment is fulfilled by myself.
Albert: What is the future for the MPO?
Bert: I am working on designing an optional gas burner base for the Mighty Pizza Oven. This will take the Mighty Pizza Oven experience to whole new level, giving you complete and accurate control over the baking temperature. Best of all, it will make the Mighty Pizza Oven setup 100% portable, so you can easily take it with you on camping trips and to tailgate parties.
I will also be able to test many more new recipes than I otherwise could, compile a Mighty Pizza Oven cookbook and work harder than ever to make your Mighty Pizza Oven experience the very best it could possibly be.
Also I am working on developing an optional charcoal/wood burner base, and an optional adapter for indoor gas stoves and additional accessories for the Mighty Pizza Oven.
Albert: Will you be doing any demos of the MPO at trade shows?
Bert: I would love to one day, I have not been able to sue to my full time job and family.
Albert: Is there anything else you would like to add, Bert???
Bert: I continue to work harder than ever to make Mighty Pizza Oven experience the very best it could possibly be.
Thank you Albert for testing MPO and for your interview.
I took the Mighty Pizza Oven for a Test Drive, here is my MPO Review
Mighty Pizza Oven uses three types of heat to cook pizza: conduction. reflection and convection. Conduction is the actual heat by having the pizza in direct contact with the pizza. Reflection is the heat of the top stone mirroring back the heat, to cook the pizza. Convection is the heat from the inside circulating all over the pizza.
I found the secret to cooking great pizza on a gas grill: The Mighty Pizza OvenThe notion is to sandwich the heat source, and thereby cooking your pizza from the top and the bottom.

Mighty Pizza Oven will let you bake pro-quality pizzas in 2-5 minutes on your backyard grill!

Check out my review of the Mighty Pizza Oven, at Pizza Therapy.

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