Perfectly Provisioning Your Outdoor Kitchen

Do it yourself, or turn to professionals for customizing.


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Photo by Ramona D'Viola

The handmade earthenware oven took John Luther about a week to build.

La Bella Vita

When your pedigree includes years at renowned Bay Area eatery Chez Panisse and a stint as Charles Schwab’s personal chef, your cooking bona fides are certifiable. For chef John Luther and his wife, Maria Ganiaris, fine food, fine wine, and good times are all part of la bella vita.

The couple created their own version of a Tuscan courtyard just outside their Richmond home’s back door. The unexpectedly large and terraced backyard (designed by Ganiaris) includes lush, mature gardens surrounded by privacy enhancing foliage, gurgling fountains, and an Old World-inspired outdoor kitchen, complete with handmade pizza oven.

With a variety of pre-made pizza oven “inserts” to choose from, the chef opted instead to build his own using plans from How to Build an Earthen Oven, Kiko Denzer’s definitive guide for DIYers.

Nestled beside a wall of climbing roses, the pizza oven and kitchen are just far enough away from the table to keep guests out of the smoke yet close enough to keep the chef in the conversation.

Photo by Ramona d'Viola

Guests can enjoy an Italian-inspired outdoor dining room close to the action.

Luther started by building a waist-high cinder block platform, using a variety of materials, including empty wine bottles, to create the “thermal mass,” essential to maintaining consistent oven heat. Luther admits if he  were to do it again, he’d make the oven floor higher to keep from having to stoop down to see inside. There’s also additional space beneath the oven to store firewood.

Once the platform was completed, Luther laid the firebrick floor—a ceramic refractory material used in furnaces, fireplaces, kilns, and pizza ovens. It is designed specifically to withstand and conduct high heat.

“Building the dome is where you need to pay close attention to Denzer’s instructions,” advised Luther. “The width, height, and depth all factor into how well the oven draws air, maintains heat, and how smoke is exhausted.

“It took us about a week to build, with materials costing about $1,000,” said Luther. “It was fun—a lot like making mud pies.”



How to Build an Earth Oven: A Low-Cost Wood-Fired Mud Oven, Simple Sourdough Bread, Perfect Loaves, 3rd Edition by Kiko Denzer with Hannah Field, and foreword by Alan Scott (Hand Print Press, 2007, 132 pp., $17.95)

Flour Power

Here’s the key to great pizzas.

Photo by Ramona D'Viola

Chucking in high-tech life for Old World tradition, professional pizzaiolo Mike McGrath moved to Napoli, Italy, (the purported home of the original pie) to study the art of pizza making.

“If you’re serious about making a good pizza, it starts with the right flour,” said McGrath, owner of Panaficioforno, a mobile pizza-making business. “The Italian Tipo 00—the finest grind you can buy—contains just enough gluten to give your dough the necessary elasticity, and produces a puffy crust that’s chewy, but not rubbery.”


Neapolitan-Style Pizza Dough

1,000 grams (35.25 ounces) 100 percent  Tipo 00 flour

550 grams (19.4 ounces) nonchlorinated water*

6 grams (4 teaspoons) dry, instant yeast

20 grams (1.5 teaspoons) salt


Put the flour and water in a mixing bowl. Let stand for 20 minutes without mixing. Add yeast to flour and water mixture. Using the dough hook on an electric mixer (this can also be done by hand), mix on slow for about eight minutes, or until completely incorporates.

Next, add salt to dough and continue mixing on slow for another two minutes. Increase the speed to the second setting, and mix for an additional 10 minutes.

Stop the mixer and take a pinch of dough and stretch it between your fingers. If it breaks apart, it needs more mixing time. If you can stretch it and the dough becomes translucent, it’s done.

Empty the mixing bowl onto a clean counter and drizzle the dough mass with extra virgin olive oil. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes or longer if it’s cold. Portion the dough into 240-gram pieces and shape into balls. Rest the dough balls an additional 20 minutes, then place the dough in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

When ready, remove from fridge and let balls come to room temp before rolling and shaping dough. Buon appetito!            


(*If your water is chlorinated, the yeast won’t produce the same result. To dissipate chlorine, fill a pitcher with water and let it stand overnight.)

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