Cooking with fire

There is something to be said for it, cooking with fire. It is as if it is coded in our DNA. We seem to be programmed for fire.

Undeniably fire has an allure. Children point and exclaim excitedly, “Look a fire!” and adults stop, stoop to half their height to peek into the oven, and then remain there, mesmerized.

We love fire. We love sitting around a fire. We love cooking with fire.

Many days, we roll out of bed still achy from the previous evening’s gig. Stiff. Groggy. Eyelids half-closed. We mechanically swallow our coffee and force ourselves out the door. It’s about a 30-minute drive to get to the oven, a drive that is done mostly in silence.

When we arrive, the first job is always, light the fire. I am usually the volunteer for the job. It’s one I enjoy profoundly.  Once the fire is started, I should walk back to the kitchen and start packing. Most times, I linger with the fire. Staring deeply, lost in….  not even thought really, just lost in the flame, watching it dance, connecting to its energy, an energy as ancient as creation.

Cooking with fire is a special privilege.  Cooking with fire means you are at its mercy. There is no controlling the fire.  You must learn its ways. Cooking with fire requires your presence and attention at all times.

We cook with a fire that keeps the oven around 900 degrees. It is arguable, of course, if cooking with fire is actually slower.

I would argue that time is relative.  It may only take two and a half or three minutes to cook a whole pizza, but try standing in one place, staring at one thing, thinking of nothing but that one thing, for three minutes.

For three long minutes, people waiting on line for pie.

For three long minutes, pies piling up waiting to be cooked.

For three long minutes, thinking, saying, doing nothing, but cooking that pie.

There is no turning down the heat, running to do four other things while you move the pizza to the back burner or flip the timer on for 20 minutes and juggle six other tasks.

Cooking with fire demands from you intimacy.  Often people will ask me when the next pie is coming out and I will say, casually, over my shoulder, “about 12 seconds.”  They joke and laugh and think it’s nuts to be so oddly precise. As the cook, you’re not trying to be anything. You know your fire. You’ve worked with it all day. You know that 20 seconds will produce a burnt crust. You know that 5 seconds will produce an under cooked crust.  Sometimes you count the seconds in your head. Most times it’s just something you know intuitively, becoming one with the dance that is the flame, connecting to its energy, an energy as ancient as creation.