Forget the rusty barbecue: outdoor cooking has been reborn. This year's Chelsea Flower Show has set the tone for a whole summer of fire pits and garden ovens, as celebrity chefs muscled in on the flower-show action armed with long-handled pizza shovels and bottles of chilli oil. Mark Gregory included a stylish clay and brick affair in his garden for the Children's Society, which Jamie Oliver put to good use churning out pizzas in 85-degree heat.
But while using an oven in the garden at midday might just lead to heatstroke, they come into their own after dark. The flames are beautiful, and kids find cooking their own pizzas remarkably entertaining – particularly for a generation who can't tear themselves from Assassin's Creed II.
The Valoriani ovens recommended by Jamie Oliver are imported from Italy by Orchard Ovens, whose website (orchard ovens.co.uk) also features copious pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow draping her lovely self over the proprietor while taking delivery of an oven. (And after all, Gwyneth can't be wrong – as anyone who has watched her very professional chicken deboning video on YouTube can attest.)
If watching Chelsea on television has made you long for the most luxurious outdoor dining money can buy, check out Chris Young's new book, Take Chelsea Home (Mitchell Beazley, £17.99). But remember, you're always aiming for that simple, primal pleasure of fire. As Bunny Guinness points out in Young's tome, "If you add a central fire pit for warmth, you may well be deep in conversation long into the night."
And now a word of caution: a genuine Italian pizza oven is £1,000-plus. So how to stop that fire pit becoming a money pit? Well, you don't have to buy a huge oven to enjoy watching stuff burn. Tandoors, clay chimineas and cast-iron fire pits are widely available and, placed well, make a fantastic centrepiece for the garden at dusk.
But the main tip from those who've been there and done it is simply to acquire a nice pile of bricks. An expensive off-the-shelf pizza oven may be top of the range, but at that price you could have takeaways flown in from Italy, and home-made, brick-built structures can be almost as good. My friend Amanda got involved in constructing a home-made pizza oven recently for King Henry's Walk, the community garden she helps to run. Two layers of bricks, assembled according to instructions she found on the internet, and 90 pizzas later the garden funds were some couple of hundred quid further into the black. Who knew that boring old bricks could be the key to so much fire-based enjoyment? n
Mitchell Beazley is offering Chris Young's 'Take Chelsea Home' to 'Independent on Sunday' readers for £13.50. Simply call 01903 828 503 and quote the code MB283
Sure fire hits
Chiminea safety guard
A circular fireguard that will fit around many ovens and firepits to protect tiny hands and paws. £39.95, castironchimineas.co.uk
Bon-Fire pancake pan
Bon-Fire has the best accessories, including a panini press, but this long-handled pancake pan makes me break out into a smile. £19.50, rawgarden.co.uk
Cast-iron fire bowl
I've fallen for this circular bowl of fire, which looks like something out of a nasty Aztec ritual. £79.99, rawgarden.co.uk
A top-of-the-range charcoal-fired stainless-steel oven, with a terracotta inner lining to seal in spicy meat juices for maximum flavour. £325, spicesofindia.co.uk