Best friends Ross Keady and John Nicholson bring their Fire and Dough pizza van to Allendale most Tuesday evenings, and folks just love them. Last Tuesday I chatted with John and Millie, both of whom can handle anything in the pizza van, about their experiences on the way into the business.
It was actually quite a hard scrabble to get the venture off the ground, since they had to buy the van, get it refurbished and the Dragon wood-fired oven (made in Colchester) installed, along with exterior and interior panelling, the big service window and high counter made, the fridge and cold box working, and everything sorted out for prompt service. Having done the preparations for the van, the business partners discovered that their cash-flow was insufficient to proceed, so they went back to work in their normal jobs for a year to save up enough to finance the new enterprise. Now they’re working a travelling route around the smaller towns and villages of Tynedale, and Tuesdays are Allendale. They were featured in the Hexham Courant Business section almost a year ago now.
I was impressed with the miniature robustness of the fire crackling away beside us as we chatted, and John said the very efficient oven reaches its baking temperature (some 400ºC) within about half an hour of burning, so that pizzas in the classic Neapolitan thin style require only 60-90 seconds of baking until they’re ready. But first you have to knead and roll out the dough (special ’00’ super Italian white), layer on the desired toppings (prices seemed to vary from £6-8 per pizza; cash or cards welcome), and then pop the dough into the oven, which can manage 5 pizzas at a time, using a special thin aluminium peel.
I don’t think that Fire and Dough actually do the classic Italian twirl technique of making the dough very thin on the backs of their fingers, swirling and tossing the flattened dough around and around in the air (which is actually quite theatrical), but no matter (the ceiling height in the van could be rather restrictive, after all), no matter! When the dough’s been rolled thin, wholesome and filled with a yummy topping, (like their Margharita, or ham, mushrooms and olive, or straight pepperoni, or vegetarian with sliced sweet peppers — even vegan offerings sans milk or egg base) baked so quickly that the rise is bubbling with dough excitement, the resulting taste has to be appreciated immediately too. You just want to chomp away as soon as the pizza is in your hands!
John was busy slicing onions, as Millie prepared the menu board for the night’s offerings, so it was gracious of them to chat with me for a little before the start of service. I wondered if they’d ever experienced down-draft problems in their oven (a nerdy question, I know, but I’ve quite a lot of experience with wood-fired ovens, myself). I made a few suggestions of a Venturi-type cowl which grabs incoming drafts and sends them skyward, creating its own upward lift (like a plane wing) that pulls the air straight through the oven. A much less expensive alternative is the Vedette type that works well too. But with only a few such nightmare-ish trials, the topic didn’t seem worth pursuing — I don’t imagine they get many customers queuing on the high fellsides, after all — rather more in sheltered connurbations protected from down-drafts anyway by the taller buildings. Besides, as they travel along on the roads, they can’t have too much of a stack or risk losing it, of course.
It was getting on for 4:30 and the team were looking anxious about being ready for their anticipated service of some 50 pizzas that evening (Allendale is a very friendly place, they said, with very satisfied customers who return again and again), so I had to tear myself away. I’d have loved to have ordered one to taste, if only my mouth could open to engage a thin slice. Soon, I hoped. Meanwhile, look out for the cheerful van parked up outside the place we call the ‘bus shelter’ opposite the Post Office/MarketPlace, most Tuesdays, and enjoy!