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My Pizza Oven: Matt Stuttle, Cambridge, UK

"Well, when some of my friends kids make them, they get fairly avante-garde. I remember a no-sauce, celery, carrot, and Dorito pizza going in. I didn't actually try that one though."

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[Photographs: Matt Stuttle]

Name: Matt Stuttle
Location: Cambridge, UK
Website: picasaweb.com/matt.stuttle/

When did you put it in? Did you build it yourself or have someone build it?

I took the plans off the Forno Bravo website. For my construction it seemed ideal—bits of it seem a bit over-engineered in respect, but that's probably good. The instructions are great, it's interesting to have to deal with the differences between US and UK construction materials. As it turns out, refractory concrete is fairly cheap in the UK, so anyone wanting to cast an oven could probably do it quite well. The other advantage of Forno Bravo is the support of the forum (and even a fledging network of pizza widows there now too): so when I fretted that my dome was bound to collapse overnight it's really nice to have someone to chat about it.

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I did get help from a professional builder friend to do the final render on the dome as that's the bit that hides all the ugliness underneath! I used a wood/fibre former to make the dome and the side-effect is that the brickwork underneath isn't as nice as I'd like. I could always parge it inside at a later date if it bugs me.

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Construction took about a month—a weekend for the foundations, a weekend to build the base and cast the hearth slab, then a week off work to do the bulk of the work on the dome.

How often do you use it?

About once a fortnight in the summer, possibly more. We do big pizza parties because once you're firing it up to make a couple, you may as well make 30. In the winter we fire much less, but we did New Years Eve this year, a testament to the insulation: there was still a frost on top of the oven when the dome hit 600c.

Do you cook anything besides pizza in it?

Everything. Since it's got a huge thermal mass, it's good for about 48 hours-plus of cooking. Usually it's: Pizzas afternoon, then meat+roast potatoes in the evening with the dome around 350°C. The next day we cook breakfast and probably some roast meat in it. Two days later it's around 140–110°C and cooks amazing casseroles or (best of all) some ribs. It works pretty well as a smoker: at some point I should investigate trying to cold-smoke something in the chimney.

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What style of pizza do you normally do?

Neapolitan style—or as close as I can get to it. Some of my friends like it less "wet" than this, so we can lift to the roof of the dome for about ten seconds (or until the hair on my arms burns).

What's your favorite topping or topping combination to make?

Mostly I'm a fan of diavola: cheese, tomato, spicy sausage. Often with extra garlic and chilli. Second pizza for me usually involves anchovies.

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Do you cook for friends/neighbors?

Yes, all the time. It's an amazing focal point for parties now. I get free wood from a tree surgeon who has a smallholding (home farm) in exchange he uses it to cook bread in occasionally.

I live in a smallish village; this weekend we had a "open garden" day so made about 10 kilos of dough and threw open the garden for people to toss their own pizzas, it was a real hit. Most people can't get over seeing a pizza cook in 60 seconds.

What does your family think of your pizza madness?

My wife thinks I'm mad, but in an adorable way. My dad desperately wants to build one himself.

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The Pizza Cognition Theory states that "the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes ... becomes, for him, pizza." Do you remember your first slice? Where was it from, is the place still around, and if so, does it hold up? On that note, has your taste in pizza evolved over time?

Honestly, I can't remember the first pizza I ate, but I can say that until I went to Napoli, I hadn't had anything you could closely describe as pizza; more like a sort of round bruschetta at best! Really, I wasn't a big fan of pizza right up until went to see friends there and had my first proper wood-fired pizza.

Nice. That's what everyone who has visited Naples says! And, by the way, it looks like you're giving your son (above) the best intro to the "Pizza Cognition Theory" ever.... Anyway ... Where do you go for pizza in your area (when you're not making your own)?

Nowhere nearby is even worth bothering with. Nearest place I'd like to try is Franco Manca's in London, which gets incredible reviews (and is one of only two places I've heard is worth bothering with).

What's most important to you: crust, sauce, or cheese?

Hmm. Good mozzarella is fantastic—however, really hard to source. In Italy it's stored in the whey (I think) so it has a shelf life like milk. Also, you tend not to use the best, freshest stuff on pizzas anyway, but what I've manage to get in the UK is a fairly poor imitation, but does the job.

For me, I'd say the crusts—I'm still not very good at doughmaking (the Neopolitan pizzaioli will check weather forecasts and adjust the mix for the humidity that day) and I'd like to have a nicer sourdough to use. But: for me, the difference between the mass-produced or low-oven cooked pizzas and wood-fired stuff is the crusts. If you've got a hot, humid oven with great thermal conductivity, you get a light, crisp-on-the-outside, fluffy-in-the-middle crust that you'd happily eat on its own. Bake in a 200c electric oven and you'll get a dry, tough scrap left on the plate after the "good bits" have been eaten away.

What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?

Pineapple. What's that all about?

Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?

Well, when some of my friends kids make them, they get fairly avante-garde. I remember a no-sauce, celery, carrot, and Dorito pizza going in. I didn't actually try that one though.

I have seen a Neapolitan pizza place do a pizza topped with french fries. I really wanted to try that but I think my friends would have disowned me!

What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?

Well, probably to Napoli—I've booked holidays to go see my friends

Anyone you'd like to see interviewed next?

I've always enjoyed reading about Jeff Varasano, particularly I'd love to know about his transition from pizza obsessive to restaurant owner.

More from the 'My Pizza Oven' Series

Pizza Hacker: Renegade Pieman of SF »
Sue Wong: Busy Pizza Moms, Represent! »
Caleb Schiff (aka Flagstaff Forno) »
A Pizza Oven Glows in Brooklyn »
Alberto of "Forno Pizza" »
Nick and Robin Gladdis, Paso Robles, Calif. »
Paulie Gee, Pizza Madman of New Jersey »
Mark Graban, Fort Worth, Texas »
Steve O. in Wisconsin »
Dan Curry, Kansas City »

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