Twelve, maybe 13 years ago, Janel Lajoie remembers trying wood-fired pizza at a festival and besides the delicious taste, the somewhat-unique method of preparation and interaction with people seemed like a lot of fun.
“That’s been kind of in the back of our minds ever since … that’s something we wanted to do someday,” Lajoie said. “Just travel around and make wood-fired pizza and make people happy. Fire and pizza — what is there not to be happy about with those two things?”
Those thoughts serve as the backstory to how Philomath-based Mud Oven Wood-Fired Pizza got its start. Making its debut this summer at various events, including weekly appearances at the Philomath Farmers’ Market, the venture operates under the nonprofit Bountiful Backyard.
Mark McGuire, an engineer and president of Bountiful Backyard — which also oversees the farmers’ market — connected with Kiko Denzer, who has developed a reputation for building mud ovens.
“They kind’ve had this idea of doing something community-based at the market and I think a lot of different ideas were tossed around,” Lajoie said. “Since Kiko had built these types of ovens all over the world and had written books about it, he said he’d be the mason and Mark engineered it.”
Wood-fired pizza has a distinct taste from the smoke as well as the char on the crust. There are three options as far as toppings — cheese, pepperoni and “sciacio” — a vegan offering with ingredients that include olive oil, garlic, and fresh-ground sea salt and pepper.
Mud Oven’s Brian Mayfield said it takes only one to two minutes to bake a pizza in the mud oven.
“I mean, the oven’s 850 (degrees),” he said. “You put it in there, spin it around a few times and it’s done.”
Although it doesn’t take long to make a pie, the set-up process is time-intensive. On farmers’ market Sundays, for example, the event doesn’t start until 11 a.m. but Mud Oven needs to be out there at 8 to 8:30.
“It takes about three hours to fire the oven to get it hot before we can start cooking,” Lajoie said. “But once the fire’s going, it’s like you keep feeding it, there’s a lot of wood-chopping.”
Other than part-time jobs when they were kids, neither Lajoie or Mayfield have worked professionally in the pizza-making business. But they’ve experimented at home for a long time.
Lajoie came up with the crust recipe roughly 10 years ago on a camping trip — the dough rolled out with a wine bottle and baked on a fireplace grate because they didn’t bring the necessary cooking tools.
“It was so good and that’s been the basis of this crust recipe that we use,” Lajoie said.
Since the pie-making got started in July, Mud Oven’s reputation continues to get hotter. Lajoie said folks who’ve seen them at various locations have gone out of their way to find them at the farmers’ market.
The oven simply operates on wood — in fact, Mayfield said he’d like to hear from anyone who might have any kind of hardwood tree trimmings that are at least a couple of inches in diameter, saying, “If they cut it up into 18-inch pieces in like a banana box and fill it up and bring that, we’d trade you for pizza.”
Check in with Mayfield for specifics on what he needs by reaching out through email to email@example.com.
Lajoie and Mayfield said they had entertained plans of keeping the pizza operation going beyond the farmers’ market but a unique opportunity came up.
“Some folks came by the market a few weeks ago — they run the farmers’ market in Roatán in Honduras,” Mayfield said. “They bring fresh fish in and they do the farmers’ market and said that they cook out of ovens like ours but that they don’t have any pizza.”
Mayfield joked that he and Lajoie could show them. But the Hondurans were serious about learning. Now, they’re headed to Central America in a few months for a consulting gig — a particular place in the world — Roatán is an island about 40 miles off the coast — that they’ve actually dreamed of visiting.
Mud Oven Wood-Fired Pizza plans to be at the Philomath Farmers’ Market throughout the season, which ends Oct. 16. For other possible locations, go to Mud Oven’s Instagram page to see the latest postings.