We hope everyone is enjoying 2014 so far, and making good use of those snow-covered (or not!) ovens. With the new year often comes a time of reflection and taking stock. For us, 2013 marked a significant milestone: our 10-year anniversary. We founded Forno Bravo in 2003 and have been so fortunate to help homeowners and restaurants discover and embrace the joy of cooking in a wood-fired oven. To the right, we've rounded up some highlights from our company's history.
One of those highlights is the beginning of Pizza Quest in 2010. I have really enjoyed keeping up with Peter Reinhart, Brad English and others on this website devoted to the exploration of artisanship in all forms (especially pizza). Below, read one of Peter's recent blog posts that takes a larger look at our relationship with food and cooking, inspired by his visit with Michael Pollan.
Finally, we've included a simple but hearty recipe for gratin potatoes, the perfect dish to warm you up on these winter days.
Exciting things are in the works for the year ahead, and we hope you will stay in touch through the Forno Bravo Forum, Facebook, Pinterest and our other online sites. Of course, you can always just call us at (800) 407-5119.
P.S. If one of your New Year's resolutions is to take the plunge and start your own mobile wood-fired catering business, check out The Fire Within's "Getting Started" workshop series. See the Getting Started flier (PDF) for details; dates and registration links are available on The Fire Within's website (drop-down menu under Workshops).
Peter's Corner: A Visit With Michael Pollan
Peter Reinhart, our Pizza Quest host, baking instructor and baker extraordinaire, shares a recent blog post about his visit with author Michael Pollan.
[Recently], author Michael Pollan came to Charlotte to speak at a local university. Most of you already know who Michael Pollan is, but in case you don't, he is the author of a number of bestselling books on food and culture, including The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is arguably the most influential book on our relationship with food since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. He has a new book out called Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, a book that I think every serious food lover should own and read, especially the many pizza freaks who follow us here on our "journey of self-discovery through pizza" and who intuitively grasp the notion of cooking as a transformational act.
Regardless of which Pollan books you've read or not read, his message is clear (and I'm not referring to his now classic "Food Rule": Eat food, not too much, mostly plants, which makes for a great sound bite as well as good guidance). No, his deeper message, I believe, has to do with connectivity and consciousness. His books help us connect with the whole lineage of sources – from seed, to soil, to farmer, miller, merchant, consumer and cook – that transform things of the earth into things of nourishment and joy.
He reveals our inevitable complicity in the taking of life for the sake of our own, and also the priestly (or, if you prefer, the shamanistic) dimension inherent within each of us to effect the transformation of raw ingredients into something totally other.
In fact, what I love about this new book is spelled out in its subtitle, A Natural History of Transformation. It is the power to change one thing into something else, whether through skill, talent, training, artisanship, or simply through seeing and knowing – knowing that everything exists on many levels and is never only what we think it is. Because, when you think about it, transformation isn't only about changing something from one thing into something else, but in the ability to see that the "something else" was there all along, hidden behind the veil of the thing we think we see.
Now, Michael Pollan didn't say all that I just wrote above, but he writes about things that make me think of things like this. When I say, as I have in many of my own books, that the mission of the baker is "to evoke the full potential of flavor trapped in the grain," it touches on this notion of connectivity as an act of transformation.
In Cooked, Pollan shows how, throughout human history, we have learned to harness fire, water, air and earth into tools that allow us to transform (perhaps "evoke" or "reveal" are just as accurate here), the full potential of an ingredient, whether it be animal, vegetable, fruit or grain, into something tasty, and also digestible and nourishing, and even more important, something other than what we thought it was while revealing what it actually could be. – Peter
Condensed from Peter's original blog post on Pizza Quest.
Recipe: Gratin Potatoes
1 lb potatoes, washed and scrubbed
4 Tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup chicken stock
4 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Thinly slice the potatoes and onion. (We used a mandoline.) Layer 1/3 of your potatoes and onions in a terracotta baking dish. Dot with 1/3 of the butter, then salt and pepper. Continue layering until you have used all the potatoes. Pour the cream and stock into the dish, use the last of the butter, and cover the top with the cheese. Cover the dish either with a lid or a layer of aluminum foil.
Fire your oven until it reaches 700ºF, and then allow the temperature to fall to about 450ºF. You want a hot enough oven to bake the potatoes until soft, without your oven losing all of its heat. If you are baking this with other dishes, you should either fire your oven longer, or start at a higher temperature. Place in a moderately hot oven for one hour. Remove the cover for the final 10 minutes.