Equipment options abound for today’s pizza makers

Illustration of Pizza maker holding pizza peeler with Pizza on it

By Denise Deveau

When it comes to pizza equipment, chefs have an endless menu of options, from wood and gas-burning to propane-fired and conveyor ovens; from countertop and mobile to standalone units. As the demand for pizza remains strong, chefs are discovering creative ways to showcase their talents while meeting the needs of their audiences, whether for takeout, dine-in, or outdoor catering. Here’s a look at a few of the many ways chefs have equipped their operations to meet customer demand.

Burning it up in the great outdoors

Since COVID, outdoor dining has become a popular attraction for consumers. That’s why Chris Haworth, owner of West Avenue Cider House in Freelton, Ont., recently decided to build a customized outdoor wood-burning pizza oven for its orchard property’s growing foodservice operations.

His newly constructed Forno Bravo wood-burning oven can fit up to 16 10-inch pizzas at once and cost about $25,000. “It’s pure wood-burning, not a wood/gas mix,” he says. “Depending on how many pizzas we are making, it can retain enough heat to cook them in 90 seconds and get that lovely blistered dark crust flavour and texture.”

The oven, located in a pergola with an open roof, is designed to match the polished cement exterior of its main building. “It matches the tables and bar area so it all rolls through a certain theme.” Dave Maciulus, owner of The Red Door Cucina in Dundas, Ont. went one step further to feed outdoor-dining enthusiasts with his Fontana wood-burning oven from Italy. He took it on the road.

After COVID, Maciulus realized he had to provide some sort of alternative to extend his business. “We were getting calls for private outdoor parties, so we lowered the Fontana oven at the restaurant from the chimney position, put it on trailer wheels, and loaded it on a specially designed trailer.”

As a chef, he admits to having a passion for working with fire. “I love the authenticity, even though it comes at a price. You pay a bit more for labour, you have to keep the firewood stoked, it’s unpredictable, and you need people who are gifted in knowing how to use them. Working with fire takes skills.”

The convenience of conveyor

For Ernesto Castillo, director of Food and Beverage for the InterContinental Toronto Centre, choosing a pizza oven was all about efficiency and labour savings. When it came time to replace three smaller pizza ovens in his kitchen, he decided the best route would be a conveyor-style alternative — in this case a Lincoln countertop model. “The three we had could only make one pizza at a time and you always had to keep an eye on them. It got challenging for one person to handle,” he explains.

Because it was so labour intensive, pizza was only available for room-service orders. “The new conveyor is a dream,” he says. “You get the dough, build the pizza, put it on the conveyor, and four minutes later you cut it and box it. The beauty of it is that it all comes out the same way. You don’t have to worry about quality or burnt pizza.” The added efficiency means they can now make enough pizzas to expand service to the hotel’s restaurants and bars. “We have easily tripled our sales for pizzas, and we don’t have to waste product anymore.”

Old meets new

Gino Benevenga, owner of Venga Cucina in the junction in Toronto, is one of a rare company of chefs in the country to have perfected the art of Pinsa Romana, an alternative form of pizza that requires specific techniques and a high temperature to achieve the light, crispy, bubbly crust.

While a wood-burning oven would seem the obvious choice, “The floor simply couldn’t support one,” he says. Instead, he opted for a Moretti Forni double-deck gas-fired oven that can cook up to 10 pizzas at a time.

“The beauty of the Moretti is that the stone has holes designed to allow hot air to circulate around the bottom of the pizzas without letting the flame get through,” he says.

Benevenga was also careful in his mixer selection, opting for a Mecnosud double-speed spiral mixer. “It incorporates a lot of air when you do the mixing,” he explains. “The dough is so dense you need a pretty strong mixer that can mix without heating the dough.”

All things to all pizzas

When Tommy Schneider opened Tommy’s Pizzeria in Winnipeg in January 2020, he wanted a pizza oven that could cater to all the styles of pizza he wanted to try, from Detroit and New York to Grandma and American style.

After checking out multiple options, he went with a $55,000 Pizza Master 943, a four-stone hearth, three-deck modular electric pizza oven that can run at different temperatures at the same time. On a busy day, Schneider says he can cook more than two dozen pizzas at once.

“I’ve worked around a few different types of pizza ovens, from gas-fired to wood burning,” he says. “This one gives me the ability to make so many different styles.”

Rounding out his equipment is an Infrico granite-top refrigeration system and a Cuppone multiple-speed spiral mixer. A couple of his favourite accessories are his GI Metal pizza peels and cutters. “All that equipment makes a difference. If you use peels that don’t have perforation holes, you end up with too much flour.”

Schneider, who has been making pizzas since the age of 15, is a firm believer in experimentation. “There are at least 30 styles of pizza so there’s always something to try. That’s why I love what I do. I never run out of things to learn.”

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