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[Photograph: Adam Kuban]

I spent the first part of my morning fumbling around in the dark with Donatella Arpaia in the presence of a glorious pizza oven. How's that to set a pizza-loving guy's heart a flutterin'?

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You see, it's Day 11 of the oven-curing process at Ms. Arpaia's upcoming pizzeria, and she was there with Donatella's chef, Jarett Appell, to cure the oven.

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Curing is a process performed on these types of ovens to drive out residual moisture from the bricks and mortar. If you were to build the oven and then just light a full-bore fire, you'd run a very high risk of cracking the thing as the moisture expanded in the bricks. Instead, curing has to be done slowly; at Donatella's Appell has been spending three to four hours each day lighting a series of fires in the oven, starting on the first day with a very small fire and gradually ramping up the intensity as the masonry becomes ever drier.

For Appell, it's a lot of firebuggin' and waiting, as you can see in the photo above.

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Appell tells me that he knows the fire is hot enough when the dome of the oven turns white — essentially when all the soot has been burned off. At that point, he lets it die down again and comes back the next day. He could cure the oven faster, he says, by lighting several fires a day, but he only has time for one fire a day. Which is fine: He estimates it'll be done in three or four more days, but Donatella's isn't slated to be open for another month yet.

Oh, why were we in the dark at the beginning of this post? Well, there's a buzz of building activity going on there, and the workers had to cut the power momentarily for something they were working on. What were you thinking?

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