Pizza Perfection: Finding the right oven for your restaurant

Whether it’s satisfying a pub crawler’s late-night munchies or attracting the next generation of gourmet trend-obsessed foodie, Canadian restaurants are finding an ever-growing demand for an Italian classic — pizza.

But even if you have Nonna’s time-tested recipe that has been passed down through the generations, your restaurant needs the best equipment to create the perfect pie. Canadian Restaurant and Foodservice News recently asked several leading pizza oven suppliers about choosing the best oven for achieving pizza perfection, including Bobby D’Ambrosio, general manager at Kendale Products; Joe Di Donato, vice president of operations at Faema Canada; and Francesco Zulian, vice president and general manager of sales at Italiana Foodtech.

CRFN: What are some of the most significant trends and developments when it comes to pizza ovens for restaurants in 2018?

Bobby D’Ambrosio: Our Marra Forni ovens are the industry leader in rotating deck ovens. They make fresh pizza in 90 seconds without sacrificing quality. They make high-end pizza production as easy as possible so our customers can focus on other aspects of their business and maximize quality and customer satisfaction at the same time.

Joe Di Donato: We’ve been selling a lot of electric pizza ovens due to the fact that they are multi-function. They can do pizza or focaccia bread, and most importantly, it is much easier for kitchen staff to use an electric oven compared to gas or wood-fired ovens. Electric ovens can be placed almost anywhere, and not necessarily underneath a hood, so they can be vented straight out. They can also be used in locations such as office towers where the use of hoods is limited. You have more control with cooking in an electric oven because you have both top and bottom heat, unlike many wood and stone ovens.

Francesco Zulian: Most restaurant owners today purchase their ovens as centrepieces for their restaurants and pay a lot of attention to details. Our customers love the made-in-Italy mosaic ceramics and personalizing their ovens with their name or logo.

What major concerns and issues should restaurant operators keep in mind when deciding to purchase a pizza oven for the first time?

BD: High quality equipment is a significant investment. We design our equipment so that it will impress you as much in 5-10 years as it does on day one of operation. Do the research into the quality of building materials when purchasing the centrepiece to your restaurant. Also consider how user-friendly the equipment is and ask yourself: will I look forward to using it every day?

JD: First, you obviously need to consider the space where the oven will be used. Electric ovens come in different sizes and can fit in just about any space. They’re compact and can be stacked up to three ovens high. You also have different power options available with electric ovens.

FZ: There are many things to keep in mind when purchasing a new oven, as it’s the most important element for a great tasting pizza. What type of pizza you want to serve? Who will be making the pizza and operating the oven? Those factors should have the biggest impact on what kind of oven you choose. Buy from someone you trust, make sure they can answer your questions, and make sure that they ask you the right questions.

What energy-saving innovations have been appearing with pizza ovens? How can they help save time, money and energy?

BD: The quality and thickness of insulation in dome-style pizza ovens will dictate their energy consumption. Also, the size of the burner and design of heat dispersion will affect energy consumption greatly.

FZ: A distinction must be made here between energy savings between electric and wood- and gas-fired ovens. Most customers request energy savings because it helps lower their costs and is considered a social responsibility issue for many operators. That said, when purchasing an electric oven, it is important to verify that the energy-saving quality of the oven comes from an improvement in technology and all-around insulation of the oven. Nowadays you must be wary of many ovens with lower consumption as it may also result in a lack of power and poor general construction of the oven. With fired ovens, energy efficiency is a combination of factors: thick brick construction (refractor brick in this case is the best heat-conducting material), a smaller oven door opening and automated flame regulation. The automated flame allows the gas flame to be on until desired temperature is reached, turning on and off as needed. Automatic oven ignition also helps lower energy consumption.

What are the pros and cons of each type of pizza oven?

BD: Traditional deck ovens require a lot of user input to produce great pizza. This is time-consuming and not cost-effective. Conveyor ovens are a good product, but will struggle in any operation that does pizza in considerable volume, and they lack the quality crust cooked on real Italian brick.

JD: With a stone oven, the heating elements are usually inside the stone itself. Once the stone heats up, it holds the heat for a long time. The stone should not smooth and have a rough surface, which allows the air to circulate underneath the bottom of the pizza; a perfectly flat surface might have hot spots. Wood-burning ovens are used more for the Neopolitan-style pizza where you need to have more highly trained staff operate the oven. In a wood oven, the pizza cooks very quickly, in about two minutes, and you have to move it around, but they also have wood-burning ovens where the actual inside of the oven where you cook the pizza rotates. This simplifies things a bit for the user.

FZ: Electric deck ovens are easy to operate and have precise temperature and cooking controls that allow the user to set the temperature of the baking chamber and floor and top heating elements. They’re efficient and versatile, allowing users to cook other dishes and more styles of pizza. Operators can also add more decks. They lack the visual appeal of fired ovens, though.

Gas ovens are cheaper to operate than most electric ovens and require a lower overall investment. But they’re inconsistent, have hot spots and users can only control the chamber temperature. Like electric ovens, they don’t have much visual appeal.

Wood-fired ovens can reach the high temperature necessary to make Neapolitan style pizza, and if it’s equipped with rotating technology, guarantees a consistent product even without an experienced pizzaiolo. They can also be built in different styles and looks, which can lend some marketing value to operators’ restaurants. They’re not ideal for “al taglio,” or by-the-slice pizza, and depending on the model they can be larger investments than other ovens.

What’s a good tip that chefs or operators can follow to get the most from their pizza oven?

BD: Prep work saves time during busy service. Maintain constant oven temperature for consistent results.

JD: Use the oven for multiple functions, not just pizza. Some operators use their pizza oven to cook chicken, bacon, salmon, meat and even lasagne. And at the end of the day, when you bring the temperature of the oven down, you can also bake your own bread. Pizza ovens are very versatile.

FZ: This might sound like a cliché, but the best pizza starts with the dough! Our suggestion is to attend a pizza course before purchasing any equipment and really get a full understanding of pizza dough and its role in making a great pizza!

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