One on One with Michael Chiarello


NapaStyle, on Pizza Ovens

By Gina Dostler

“One pizza – mushroom and sausage,” shouts the waiter off screen as Lucy gives a startled look and with that gifted comedic touch she starts to kneed the dough furiously in her hand, pounds it on the table, runs it through a dough flattener and proceeds to twirl the dough in the air only to bumble it when her hand pokes through it.

Or after several tries when she tosses it up through the cooking vent to land outside all squishy and sliding down the curb. Classic “I Love Lucy.” Makes me want to go out and make my own pizza so , too, after several – probably many, many – tries, can earn that yeah-what’s-the-big-deal smirk Lucy gives after she slides the pizza in the oven, slams the door shut and struts back to make another one.

Yet living here in the big OC, I definitely want to make my pizza in style – such as in a wood burning pizza oven in my own Mediterranean style patio with lots of friends about. So who better to contact than a chef, specifically an Italian one who makes great food and demands the best equipment. I contacted the ever-charming Michael Chiarello, acclaimed chef and owner of Bottega Restaurant and NapaStyle to help me understand what a good pizza oven is all about.


Q:  What is NapaStyle?

A:  A lifestyle concept store I created featuring food, wine, furniture and furnishings with a sustainability philosophy. NapaStyle gave me a way to share the rich, uncomplicated lifestyle that the Napa Valley inspires and to bring it down to Southern California.


Q:  So what’s so good about a wood-fired pizza oven?

A:  To make the most mouth-watering, greatest tasting pizza ever right at your own home. Nothing beats the consistency, moistness and smoky flavor of all-natural fire cooking. And it’s a wonderful way to entertain friends and family. It creates a cozy atmosphere out in the patio with the wood crackling as the flames heat the oven. It’s the ultimate pizza party all around.


Q:  I see that NapaStyle has its own pizza oven. Tell me about the Pizza Palazzo Wood-fired Oven.

A:  It is locally made by artisans in California using Old World Italian techniques. Its unique domed shape is doubled lined for maximum heat retention (up to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit) and convection. And the double-walled concrete composite construction ensures the oven doesn’t get too hot to touch. It features a 24-inch diameter firebrick cooking floor and a 6-inch oven landing that is perfect to keep food warm and hold pots or pans. On top of the dome is a smoke-diverting vent and chimney where all the great smells cooking inside come out to wow your neighbors. In the front opening of the oven is a metal door and the oven itself sits on a black wood-storing metal stand. The dome is weather-protected with a beautiful, Old-World Tuscan “giallo” glaze.


Q:  So what do I do to start cooking with my oven?

A:  You want to start by building a fire in the center of the oven, add some dry kindling, one to two odor-free, non-toxic fire starters, and two or three pieces of seasoned hardwood. Then take a butane torch, which is a better alternative to a lighter or match, to begin the fire. Once the fire gets started, you can add 2-3 pieces of wood to make the flame reach the center and front of the dome. Your firewood should not smolder or smoke before catching fire and should burn easily and quickly. Add more wood once the fire is going good and then wait 20 minutes or until the center of the dome inside starts to turn white. This happens when the oven starts to reach 700 degrees and the carbon goes from black to white. It’s an indication that the oven is about to reach the right temperature. Now is the time to build the fire out to the sides and towards the back so the rest of the dome can get heated. About 45 minutes later after the whole dome has turned white, the perfect temperature is reached and you can get started.


Q: Do I keep the wood burning in the oven, or do I remove it before cooking?

A:  It all depends. There are several cooking styles you can use:  fire-in-the-oven (650-plus degrees), roasting (600-450 degrees), baking (500 degrees and below), and grilling. Fire-in-the-oven does keep the wood burning inside and is perfect for pizza, flatbreads and some appetizers because they cook very quickly. The pizza is cooked on the oven floor right next to the fire. In roasting, the wood is kept off to the side in the oven and you cook the meats and vegetables beside the hot coals. To bake in the oven after your oven is fully fired, you need to rake out the hot coals and brush out the oven. With grilling, you rake a layer of hot coals across the cooking floor near the front of the oven and place a cast iron grill over it.


Q:  What basic equipment is needed for cooking with the pizza oven?

A:  You definitely want to have a rectangular pizza peel (looks like a flat shovel) with a long, hollow handle that you can slide right under your pizza and place into the oven. Aluminum is best due to its slick surface. Other tools: a small round pizza peel for turning and removing pizzas, a copper brush head for cleaning and swabbing the cooking hearth, an oven rake to move and remove objects, and an oven shovel to remove the ash.


Q:  What type of wood would you recommend to burn?

A:  Oak, maple, ash, beech, birch, apple, almond, cherry, pear and pecan. All of these are hardwoods and burn much hotter than softwoods such as pine, fir, cedar and spruce. The woods should be seasoned: dried and aged for six months to a year. A good seasoned wood has radial cracks across the sections. It burns better and produces the heat your oven needs. Green wood burns poorly and creates a lot of smoke, which can blacken your entry arch. And damp wood takes much longer to heat the oven properly. Do not burn sappy, oily woods such as red pine, and never burn laminated woods like plywood, pressure treated woods or anything that has been painted, chemically treated or glued.


Q: How can I get a Palazzo Pizza Oven delivered to my home?

A:  You can either call NapaStyle at SouthCoast Plaza or stop by the store to purchase one. While you’re there, step up to our wine tasting bar and select a wonderful boutique wine to celebrate your new pizza oven.


Q:  Is there any assembly or is it ready to go upon delivery?

A:  James Franklin, our store manager, will see to it that your pizza oven is delivered and setup properly for you. You don’t have to lift a finger other than to make your own masterpiece pizza!


Q:  Being a celebrity chef with your own restaurant Bottega in Napa Valley, what wonderful meals other than the traditional breads and pizzas can I prepare in the pizza oven?

A:  After you have been cooking pizzas during the day, the coals still nice and hot inside the oven, you can take a baby pig, a leg of lamb, or any meat to roast all night long. You can also make oven-dried tomatoes, oven-dried stone fruit, or anything you want to make smoky and amazing. I even smoke my olive oil in the pizza oven.





3333 Bear Street #202

Costa Mesa, California 92626