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My Pizza Oven: Rene Walhout's Countertop Pizza Oven

I don't know if I've made it clear during Pizza But Not Pizza Week/Fusion Pizza Week yet that these 5 days are more about the celebration of novel forms of pizza — not a diss on them. With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to Rene Walhout and his very novel form of making pizza — the G3 Ferrari Countertop Pizza Oven. The pizzas that come out of it look really good. Which is amazing, because this gadget looks more like a tortilla press than a serious oven. But Rene swears by it and was excited to share it. I've caught the fever now, too, and am on the lookout for one. Anyway, let's get Rene in the hot seat. The Mgmt.

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[Photographs: Rene Walhout]

Name: Rene Walhout
Location: The Netherlands
Website: flickr.com/photos/14034625@N00

When did you buy this oven? Where did you first see it?

I bought it about two years ago after I read about it on the internet. After experimenting a lot with baking pizzas I discovered that all it came down to was heat. I bought a pizza stone and succeeded in raising the heat of my regular kitchen oven to a bit above 250°C/480°F. The G3 Ferrari promised a maximum temperature of 400°C/752°F. Whether it does, I haven't been able to check. My thermometer stops at 300°C/570°F. But seeing and tasting the result I suppose it does.

Had you ever used one before buying it?

No.

How much did it cost?

About €130 euros (isn't that about US$160?).

How often do you use it?

Twice a month.

You say you'd previously been making pizzas in your regular oven. How does this countertop oven compare?

Yes, I made a lot in the regular oven. I soon found out that my oven did not get hot enough for a really good pizza. The pizzas were OK, but the crust was a bit too bready for my taste. First I bought a pizza stone, which did pretty well, too, but still it did not get hot enough for the thin crusted pizza I prefer.

The pizzas from the countertop are close to perfect. A thin crust with a burned spot here and there.

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How long does it take a pizza to cook in that thing?

Less than five minutes. If the oven is really hot, you'll have to take care or your crust will burn.

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

Margherita: tomato, mozzarella, basil.
Napolitana: tomato, anchovies, mozzarella, capers.
Salami, cooked ham.

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Do you cook pizza for family/friends/neighbors?

Mostly friends and family. Kids love to see pizza being cooked in front of their eyes.

What do your friends/family think of your pizza madness?

You'd better ask my cleaning lady...

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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?

I firmly believe in the Pizza Cognition Theory. It must have been in 1970 or 1971. I must have been about 7 years old and lived in a small village. An Italian came to live next to us and started a business in marble and ran a restaurant where he hired a pizza maker from Naples. To this day I can still see him juggle with the dough, ladle the tomato sauce over it (in that typical circular movement from the center to the outside), and dressing it further with cheese and salami. It made a big impression on me. His craftmanship more than did the taste, which was strange to me. Savory and delicious but strange above all. It's that first pizza that did it. The restaurant closed many years ago.

My taste did evolve indeed. In my childhood I didn't mind much as long as it tasted savory and didn't have abominations like pineapple on it. When I travelled to Italy the first time my taste changed dramatically. Here I tasted my first pizza with a thin crust and a topping consisting of but a few ingredients. It triggered me to start to cook my own pizzas. And that's how I ended up with the countertop.

Where do you go for pizza in your area (when you're not making your own)?

If I desperately need something to fill my stomach, I order one from a delivery. But even these few words do them too much credit.

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

Crust, you might have guessed....

What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?

Pineapple.

Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?

I'm very picky at that. I avoid them. No pizza with shawarma topping for me. Did I mention the pineapple?

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

Rome and Palermo.

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Can you cook anything else with the countertop oven?

You can also cook a perfect flammenkuche or tarte flambée (above). This is an Alsacian (France) style pizza. It has the same thin crust and the topping always consists of a mixture of creme fraiche and frommage frais (sorry, but I don't know the equivalent names in English...), finished off with sliced onions and small strips of bacon (speck). A flammenkuche is an amazing pizza! Try it!

Now: Who would *you* like to see interviewed next?

I should have mentioned him before: Jeffrey Steingarten. He inspired me greatly with his story on his quest for the perfect pizza. Does he still publish? I can only find his first two books, which I both read many times. Love to read more from and about him.

Ah. I think SE founder Ed Levine has an "in" with Mr. Steingarten. He would be a great interview. And, by the way, his column appears in the U.S. version of Vogue magazine. Steingarten's books were both compilations of his columns from that magazine over the years. If you can find a U.S. Vogue wherever you are in the Netherlands (I'm sure you can), you can read his stuff.

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