AS PEOPLE RETURN TO BASICS, WOOD-FIRED COOKING IS HOT
By Kathleen Pierce
KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — It’s 800-plus degrees in Jill Strauss’ backyard. Yet the apron-clad owner of Jillyanna’s Woodfired Cooking School keeps her cool helping students magically turn balls of just-made pizza dough into canvases for crusty, fragile Neapolitan pies.
Thrusting caramelized onion and chorizo-topped pizzas into a blazing wood-fired oven and pulling out spectacular gourmet discs every 90 seconds is part of the show.
“Neapolitan pizza requires great heat. Wood is the perfect method,” said Strauss, a restaurant veteran who spent weeks in Naples, Italy, learning to make these thin-crust-in-the-center but puffy-on the-edges pies invented centuries ago in the old country. An intensive class with a fourth-generation pizzaiolo who was “yelling at me in Italian for two weeks” was her baptism by fire.
As people across the country turn to slow cooking, ancient methods like wood-fired cooking have become increasingly more attractive. “There is a longing that people have to slow down,” said Strauss.
“I think we have a very busy society. Everyone is unbelievably stressed and hurried. It’s not just a cooking school but an opportunity to meet new people who share your passions.”
Scores of people sign up for Strauss’ classes and workshops, taught in her Kennebunkport backyard anchored by a stunning mortar oven surrounded in field stone and granite. Their motivation is multi-pronged. “It’s an experience to cook with wood. You are doing something that’s very old fashioned and gratifying,” said Strauss. “Being able to tame that fire and produce something so delicious with live fire … it’s almost like a sport.” […]