Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cooking with fire

steamer clams open in 7 minutes at 700 degrees!
 The oven's day begins when the morning bakers take off the door at 3 am. Smoldering coals spark to life any remnants of wood left from the night before. If the temp reads too cool, it is necessary throw on a couple of logs...looking to top out at about 650 degrees. As the fire dies down, the bakers are mixing their bread doughs and prepping pastries to proof and bake for the morning rush. As soon as the coals are spent, they will clean the oven with the long stick that has a wire brush attached to one end. They pull the debris forward and it falls into the ash drop at the front of the oven. The brick is swabbed with a wet cloth and is ready for baking. The temp is 500 degrees or so when the first breads go in and as it cools, we can roast veggies for sandwiches, bake off cookies and even cakes and cupcakes. At about 3 in the afternoon, the oven is re-fired for dinner. We load it with birch and alder and ignite it using up empty flour bags and other paper trash from around the bakery. As it burns, the wood has an almost perfume-like aroma. The kitchen starts to heat up, I open the window and hope for an offshore breeze to cool down my station. In writing the dinner menu I try to make things to utilize the oven as much as possible (you would think that has to include pizza, but there are already two other places to get wood fired pies in our neighborhood, if you can believe that!), though that means that The Fire must be just right. Too hot and every thing burns and too cool, it takes too long and the line bogs down. The perfect temperature is an eyebrow singeing...650-700 degrees. The fire gets pushed 2/3 of the way back and if I've got it right, there is just enough wood to maintain the temp without heating things up too much. It's a fine line to face while the heat sears my face and the sizzle pans occasionally graze my forearms which are now criss-crossed with long thin scars. (who needs tattoos...I'm into branding) The collaboration of Anthony Bourdain and Morcheeba on the song 'Lisa' always makes me feel a little  better about them. It's a small price to pay to do what you love in a place with such amazing abundance.  Burning a quick growing, locally harvested wood in an oven we made ourselves, cooking food grown and gathered here and serving it to the most entertaining and appreciative guests...when people ask me if I enjoy cooking dinners, I think about my kitchen window looking out over the ocean, the salty smell of the sea mingling with the wood smoke and savory smells and tell them I couldn't imagine doing anything else. 

This week we'll be roasting clams and mussels from Prince William Sound, Oysters from Kachemak Bay, Rockfish, Scallops and Salmon from Kodiak...go on over to the menu page for the full rundown. Then call and make your reservations (907-235-2280), 'cause baby...I'm on fire!'