The Wood-Fired Blog

Physical Goods in a Virtual Era

From the NY Times, Douthat: The Facebook Illusion

As a follow on to my posting on Facebook, Free and Forno Bravo, here is a NY Times column on the Facebook IPO. I agree with Douthat that “the “new economy,” in this sense, isn’t always even a commercial economy at all. Instead, as Slate’s Matthew Yglesias has suggested, it’s a kind of hobbyist’s paradise, one that’s subsidized by surpluses from the old economy it was supposed to gradually replace.

This reminds me of something we used to say in the early days of Internet 1.0, when companies were raising and losing large amounts of money on silly ideas like petfood.com, or e-commerce sites that sold physical goods for less than they paid for them in order to gain “eyeballs”. The Internet isn’t a business; it’s a channel.

This quote from the Douthat article caught my eye as relevant to Forno Bravo’s strategy. We make stuff!

It’s telling, in this regard, that the companies most often cited as digital-era successes, Apple and Amazon, both have business models that are firmly rooted in the production and delivery of nonvirtual goods. Apple’s core competency is building better and more beautiful appliances; Amazon’s is delivering everything from appliances to DVDs to diapers more swiftly and cheaply to your door.

Innovation, Garages and Pizza Ovens

Mention the words garage and innovation, and many people will quickly conjure up visions of Hewlett, Packard, Wozniak and Jobs. The Silicon Valley success that started in a garage is the stuff of legend—and it’s a well-earned legend. Start-up companies that built their first products in their garage, long before the even had enough money for company offices, have gone on to create some of the world’s most wonderful, and popular products. Today, the HP garage is a designated California historic landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The HP Garage

In our own small way, Forno Bravo is part of this heritage. I built the first Primavera prototypes in my garage (I really built them and I really used my garage) at a time when Forno Bravo was exclusively an importer and we were not set up for manufacturing. It was an exciting time, and I was distinctly aware that my plan might succeed and it might fail. Either way, it was thrilling to go out on a limb and try something new. Happily, it all worked out.

But that got me thinking. At the time, I hadn’t really connected the dots, but my grandfather was also a garage entrepreneur. He was born in North Dakota in 1904 to a large farming family, and in 1922 became the only member of his family to attend college—earning an engineering degree from North Dakota State. While working for the FCC in Sunnyvale, CA in 1950s as a communications engineer, he did his homework and found two spots on the FM radio spectrum that were licensable as radio stations.

To quote Wikipedia:

A broadcast license (U.S.) or broadcast licence (elsewhere) is a specific type of spectrum license that grants the licensee the privilege to use a portion of the radio frequency spectrum in a given geographical area for broadcasting purposes. The licenses are generally straddled with additional restrictions that vary from band to band.[1] In some cases, the FCC does not assign licenses to any exclusive user, but allows qualified users to obtain a license [1] The Radio Act of 1927 established the regulatory premise that persists to this day: the spectrum belongs to the public and that licensees have no property rights to continue using it.[2] Although the spectrum is licensed to bidders, the purchase does not represent ownership or rights, only privileges to using that part of the spectrum.

He received a license for the stronger of the two locations and he built the radio transmitter in his garage. Without any external funding, he launched the radio station in the early 1960s, and by the time I was a small child, he had sold it. He never worked again, retiring in his late 50s. As a child, my main memories of my grandfather were that he liked fishing, Cadillacs, Ham Radio, and the Coleco Adam personal computer. I wonder what would have happened if he had come of age during the Internet era.

Speaking of Silicon Valley, there is one last interesting twist to the story. My grandfather leased a pad from a farmer, who, the story goes, offered to sell him the land. As a childhood memory, I can still picture the transmitter sitting in a huge field of tomatoes. Forget the radio station, five acres in the middle of Silicon Valley is probably worth a fortune today.

So, here’s to garage entrepreneurs in the family.

Less-Fuss Paella Arrives in Time for Summer

From the New York Times.

Less-Fuss Paella Arrives in Time for Summer

PAELLA, the classic rice dish from Spain, is considered picnic food — a one-dish meal prepared over a fire at an outdoor party like our hamburger cookout. It is also cooked indoors, but always in a flat steel paellera or in an earthenware cazuela. The main rules are to cook the rice uncovered and, unlike risotto, not to stir once the simmering has begun.

You can make great Paella in a Forno Bravo pizza oven!

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Handling Wet Dough and the Couche

In my previous posting, I made to notes on mixing and kneading high hydration dough (80% in this case), so I wanted to make a couple of notes on working with web dough—and point out a mistake that I made (something I know but need occasional reminding).

First, don’t over-flour your work surface, or the dough, when handling wet dough. You can add a little bit of extra virgin olive oil to your work surface to the dough from sticking, and you can put water on your hands. If you use a lot of flour you can alter your dough, by working a lot of flour into the dough later in the process (which ins’t good), and your proofed loaves can have a lot of excess flour on them, which can burn in the oven, and give your bread an almost sandy, or gritty texture on the outside.

Second, you will need a couch. From our friends at Wikipedia (wait a minutes. are we our own friends at Wikipeidia? I have contributed a number of photos there—including some up-close photos of water buffalo for mozzarella):

Alternatively, a couche or proofing cloth can be used to proof dough on or under. Couche are generally made of linen or other coarse material which the dough will not stick to and are left unwashed so as to let yeast and flour collect in them, aiding the proofing process.

I have been using tea towels (at least that’s what my English wife calls them). You can find linen tea towels that are inexpensive and work pretty well—though they aren’t perfect. A professionale couche is wider, longer, stiffer and has a looser weave pattern, so the bread is less likely to stick. Maybe I need to go shopping. I know you can get one from the wonderful people at King Arthur Flour.

Mixing High Hydration Dough

I made 80% hydration baguette’s, and was reminded just how much longer (and a little faster) you need mix the dough to build the strands of gluten and develop the bread’s structure. That statement marks roughly the end of my technical knowledge on the science of web dough—thought I want to do some more research in order to understand why this is true.

From this sequence of photos, you can see the dough go from being not much more than batter, to nice thin strands of gluten developing, to the entire mixtures pulling from the sides of the mixing bowl to shape a true dough ball with a wonderful, silky texture.

Here is the recipe:

1 kg of Trader Joe’s white all purpose flour
10 grams of yeast
20 grams of salt
800 grams of ice water

Mixing took 13-15 minutes, including 3-4 minutes in the middle with my KitchenAid stand mixer running at a high speed (4 or 5). I bulk fermented the dough for a couple of hours before pushing out all of the air bubbles and shaping baguettes.

I ended up making some nice baguettes in my Presto pizza oven.

One last note. The Forno Bravo “perfect pizza dough” by weight recipe that we use in all of our eBooks does not call for you to proof your yeast in any way—we don’t add sugar to get it started, we don’t add warm water, and we don’t mix it on the side. Modern yeast is simply good enough to work without any of these extra steps.

“Ah, but does it always work?” you might be asking be asking yourself. If fact, we get a reasonable number of questions by phone and email, asking us if that really works. The answer is a resounding yes!

Think of it this way. In this recipe, I added the yeast directly to the flour (with no sugar or honey, and no separate proofing), and then I proceeded to dump ice water on top of it. Ice water, which is pretty much the opposite of proofing the yeast in warm water. And it worked great.

So my advice is to skip the yeast proofing step, and invest that time is very accurate weighing of your ingredients. You will come out ahead on time, and your bread and pizza dough will be much better!

 

Traditionalists and Innovators Square Off in Naples Pizza Debate

This from the Guardian in the UK.

Naples chefs take sides in the ‘ultra pizza’ wars

The opening salvo by the innovator:

Enzo Coccia has an evangelical air as he discusses his spring pizza – piled with asparagus, buffalo mozzarella, sheep’s cheese, lard and beans. “They may say I am a heretic, but I just want to experiment,” says the controversial exponent of the Italian trend for what are being dubbed gourmet, or “ultra-pizzas”.

Quickly followed by up with strong disapproval from the establishment:

“There is no such thing as gourmet pizza, we are not OK with this,” said Sergio Miccu, head of the Neapolitan Association of Pizza Makers, which has secured EU certification for the margherita and another Neapolitan standard, the tomato, garlic and oregano marinara.

This article has particular meaning to me, as I have met Enzo a number of times, have been to his pizzeria, La Notizia, and I’ve even ridden across Naples on the back of his motorcycle (which was truly the experience of a lifetime). He’s a great guy. Still, I can see that the battle lines have been drawn, that reputations and power are stake and there is a great deal to be won or lost.

Will Naples become known for “gourmet” pizza, or remain known as the home of the well-made Margherita pizza?

Personally, I am a traditionalist. I feel as though something similar happened in Tuscany with the “Super Tuscan” wines, which to me were simply developed to cater to consumers with taste for “new world” wines from Napa and Australia. I have never enjoyed the taste of these new age wins, and rather, greatly prefer Chianti Classico and Vernaccia di San Gimignano. I once heard a story from the Italian food editor at About.com, where they had a tasting of Super Tuscan wines in Chianti for the leading Florentine food and wine writers. After sipping their Super Tuscan wines so they could write their reviews, the Italians all pushed them away and went back to drinking Chianti. haha. I can truly picture that.

But to give you an idea of where I am coming from as a traditionalist, I don’t think they should even call the food product that California Pizza Kitchen makes pizza. It’s something; it’s edible. But it isn’t pizza.

Free Stuff

Facebook went public yesterday, and there a couple of things that stood out for me. With a market capitalization of $104B, larger than both Amazon.com, and McDonalds, and 900 million users (a significant percentage of the population of the planet with access to a computer) the company has clearly been an incredible success. As an aside, from an investor’s perspective, the Facebook IPO demonstrates how important it is in today’s system to be an early institutional investor and an insider, and how little upside remains for the real investor (you and me) by the time the shares hit the public market. Facebook hit the retail market at $42 (the price paid by someone who placed a buy order with their retail broker), and closed the day at $38 (only with buying support from Facebook’s investment banks). For the typical Facebook user who bought the stock, Friday was a losing day.

Still, with a $104B market cap, Facebook makes a big statement on the value of free.

Which brings me to the theme of this posting. Free stuff. My view is that there are two different ways of making money by giving something away for free.

1. You can use free as a way of inspiring your customers to buy stuff from you.

2. You can give away services in order to show customers ads and to collect data on their activity that you sell the advertisers.

In the first model, your users and your customers. You treat your users with respect, and you have a clean business relationship. Your customers give you money in exchange for an item or a service that they value, and the company makes a profit by selling that item or services at a higher price than it costs to produce. This is the model that Forno Bravo and Apple follows. We make stuff (pizza ovens and outdoor fireplaces) and we sell it—hopefully at a profit. We give lots of valuable stuff away for free, but we only do that in an effort to make our customers happier so that they will buy more stuff.

The second model is more complicated. The main difference is that the company’s users are, in fact, not its customers. It’s customers, the people who generate its revenue, are its advertisers. This business model describes both Facebook and Google. This dynamic can create a great deal of conflict between the company and it users, where what is good for the user, for example privacy rights and content ownership rights, is bad for the company. And visa versa.

Today Facebook makes a profit of roughly $5 per user per year, virtually all through advertising. In order for the company to grow its revenue and profit in the coming years to meet Wall Street expectations and deliver on its huge stock valuation, they will need to grow that figure to $20 per user per year. Now that Facebook is public, it is going to be interesting to watch.

All of which brings me back to Forno Bravo and free. Is there a free lunch? At Forno Bravo, we believe that the answer is a big yes! :-)

We offer a wide range of free services, including the Pompeii Oven eBook (who else would teach it customers how to not buy its products?), the Forno Bravo Forum, the wood-fired cooking eBook series, the Community Cookbook and more. And we will be announcing more free services and new free eCookbooks in the future—all with no strings attached. These services cost a good deal of money to create and maintain, but from a business perspective, these are good investments.

The important point is that Forno Bravo does not accept advertising and we will never sell or share your information with a third party. Never! We think that it should be easy, relaxing and fun to be a part of the Forno Bravo community.

This has been our strategy from day one, and it has been working really well; both for Forno Bravo and, we think, for our customers and our community. So we aren’t going to make any changes. Even though Facebook is now worth $104B.

I’m off to bake some bread and take lots of notes for our forthcoming wood-fired bread eBook.

Crooks and Pizza Ovens

From ABC News 5 in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND – From a topless pool in Vegas to his pizza oven in Independence, the government released evidence it used to convict former political powerhouse Jimmy Dimora of corruption charges…

Well, you can guess the rest. It sounds like Jimmy Dimora was a bad buy with a pizza oven. Interestingly enough, he is also very large, weighing in at 360 lbs when he was sentenced, and he is now on a low-cal diet in prison. No more pizza for Jimmy, though I have to say that if he was making Pizza Napoletana, he wouldn’t weigh so much.

In the bigger picture, I am wondering if there is a connection between corruption and pizza ovens. I remember back a number of years, when during the trial for one of the guys who cheated on Wall Street (either Enron or Worldcom) the press pointed out that the crook had not one, but two, pizza ovens at his palatial home. Pizza ovens. The ultimate luxury for those hard, stolen dollars.