Worth the dough: The Chadwick Oven makes pizzas as delicious as one from a wood-fired oven
Lisa Markwell is the editor of The Independent on Sunday. She was previously executive editor of The Independent, i and The Independent on Sunday and has edited the features pages, and both the Saturday and Sunday supplements. She writes comment pieces for the papers and restaurant reviews for the New Review. Lisa has worked across a variety of newspapers and magazines and can now tick off every publication cycle from daily to quarterly. She is an enthusiastic foodie, mother of two teenagers and drives an electric car. She is writing a book about adoption.
Thursday 14 March 2013
If you like pizza like I like pizza, brace yourself. Once tried, this new stove-top oven will become the subject of your dreams and desires. You will rationalise the price (£360), you will invent reasons to knead dough, you will forgo your precious kitchen worktop to create a display space. The Chadwick Oven is sexy.
Let me pre-empt those who will think this sounds like a paid-for advert for a new product. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I try a lot of kitchen kit. My husband despairs of the boxes that come in through the front door and the gadgets that clutter the kitchen. But almost all of it goes back out through the front door after one or two tries. It takes a lot for me to relinquish actual cupboard space.
To win my heart, a piece of kitchen equipment must either be extraordinarily practical, multi-functional and time-saving, or it needs to look pretty. Both would be nice but hey, have you seen a Thermomix?
The Chadwick is undeniably pretty. Its sparkling chrome finish and spaceship curves suggest an artwork rather than a workhorse. It is the creation of Daniel Chadwick, who has spent nearly 20 years – on and off – working on the perfect pizza oven. Chadwick is the son of the acclaimed artist Lynn Chadwick and, after initially rejecting a life in the art world in which he grew up, trained as an engineer.
"I didn't want to be in that world so I ended up working at Lister Diesel, which was a great British company, but it was going down the tubes – they were doing everything wrong. That disillusioned me about engineering – and it was all maths and physics!" Through his contacts in the architecture world, Chadwick got a job with Zaha Hadid; however, the lure of creating his own pieces grew too strong and for the past 20 years he has been making his own art, professionally (and successfully).
But the enquiring mind of an engineer coupled with the imagination of an artist make for a busy time. Chadwick was with friends eating at an Italian restaurant when someone mused, "Why isn't it possible to cook pizza like this at home?" And that was the start of an 18-year odyssey.
Chadwick is an engaging raconteur and the tale of how he worked up prototypes in clay, putting them into a fire and making a brilliant pizza, only for the thing then to get too hot and burn everything, is highly entertaining. At one point, he discussed his mission with Marco Pierre White, and – much later – with Alex James.
The encouragement was helpful, as were introductions to big manufacturers, but Chadwick couldn't get the fragile clay to be stable enough. So he switched to metal, though even then a method of getting the air to circulate properly eluded him.
Enter Guy Adams, a scientist who could identify and fix the problem. "Guy looked at what I had, figured out why it wasn't working and made it work properly. We got together formally and decided to do it ourselves." Chadwick had always wanted to make the oven without compromise; now he had got it to look the way he wanted and got the science of heat convection right.
"It has no plastic in it, and the handles don't get hot," Chadwick enthuses. "Stainless steel is much less conductive than other steel. Guy taught me that – I wasn't listening in engineering class!"
But to turn a beautiful prototype into a working piece of kit without big-money backers was a steep learning curve. "Big companies can have million-pound machines to tool each component, and amazing laser cutters. We couldn't afford that," Chadwick says. But he made contact with factories in Birmingham (Chadwick is based in Gloucestershire) and now uses their machinery for the all-important steel shaping. The ovens go back and forth between the studio and Birmingham in custom-made wooden boxes to protect the metal – once his team has smoothed the laser-cut edges, it's back to a roomful of expert workers to polish and plate the pieces.
Wouldn't it have been easier to create a prototype and hand it over to a big company to churn them out? Chadwick says categorically not. "There was little to no market for such a product, and although we had interest from big brands, there was never a realistic deal." The way he speaks lovingly about each component suggests an artist's temperament; one suspects it would have been painful to see a brand badge stamped on a less finessed version of the Chadwick (though he has recently collaborated with Weber to make a very different, and cheaper, kind of pizza oven – one that sits on a barbecue).
The team are currently working on a professional version for use by chefs, and some very serious-sounding patents protect the design and technique behind this glamorous piece of kit.
The oven comes with a shiny paddle with a retractable handle ("almost as much bother as the entire oven to get right," its inventor quips) and metal plates to protect kitchen walls. Because this oven's success is not only in its looks, but in its firepower.
I take the oven from its swish packaging to test it in my kitchen. A porous stone is slipped into the chrome dome to sit snugly absorbing the heat from below; the door lifts and lowers to allow pizzas to slide in, and leaves a "letter-box" slot to peep through to check progress. Heat circulates to make the top and bottom cook evenly.
With some dough on the go, and an array of toppings to hand, I place the Chadwick on my gas hob, make sure it's aligned, and then crank the heat to maximum (the flame fits inside the base ring, ensuring all the heat goes inside the oven). After 12 minutes, it has reached the optimum temperature to cook a perfect pizza. (That temperature is roughly double what most domestic ovens reach, to give you an idea of why the results are crisp and bubbling, not soggy and limp.)
Soon I'm churning out delightfully rustic pizzas in four minutes . My teenagers are ecstatic. And you can stick shop-bought pizza in there too.
I do some calculations. We have pizza every couple of weeks from our local (very good) pizzeria. They're around £9 each. Multiplied by four people, that's £900 in a year. Making dough and passata at home costs far less than shop-bought pizzas, too. I can justify saving up for it and want to copy fellow fan Tom Herbert (of television's Fabulous Baker Brothers) by hanging it on the kitchen wall – between uses – by its clever base ring. It seems fitting for something created by an artist.
The Chadwick Oven (currently a limited edition of 300) costs £360; chadwickoven.com. A demonstration kitchen is about to open in Stroud.
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