Pizza with French flair
When asked what Germany had contributed to international cuisine, I once heard a visiting chef reply with - "absolutely nothing:'
Well, you wouldn't get much argument from Stefan Schmith - 'The Pizza Guy' - who with his family ditched the sauerkraut 1999 and embarked on a quest to be the first mobile wood-fired pizza oven operator in New Zealand.
"I was a baker in Germany, - in fact I come from a long line of bakers," Stefan says. "I decided it was time for a change and yet had always thought about twisting a traditional German dish 'Flammkuchen' (flame cake) which is a piece of dough heated in a earth oven, with bacon cream and onions. So, in some small way Germany does have a 'pizza' equivalent. It was something I wanted to build on.
"I lived close to the French border, in one of Germany's wine regions and so there's a big French influence in what I do. A few months ago when I was firing a few pizzas into the oven one woman laughed at the irony of having a German making French pizzas! Yet history has shown there are so many types of pizzas, from many countries."
In fact pizza, like so many other foods, did not originate in Italy - the country for which it is now famous. The foundations for Pizza were laid by the early Greeks who first baked large, round and flat breads which they topped with olive oils, spices, potatoes and other things. Tomatoes were not discovered at that time or, very likely, they would have used them as we do today.
Eventually the idea of flat bread found its way to Italy where, in the 18th century, the flat breads called 'Pizzas.'
Stefan says his business has gone from idea to crispy success. "I'd heard about the famous Haussler wood-fired ovens, and thought, why not put one on wheels?"
It was a few years of trial and pepperoni for Stefan and wife Sonny, who imported the said oven and began to shape it to fit their dream. "First of all, I wanted something that I could easily tow - and that would fit in my garage," Stefan says.
"It's not until you're out at the coal face that you know what modifications are needed for next time. "We've added refrigeration for ingredients, serving benches and other little modifications to make tie that much easier. We started with thick bases - but they took too long - when you're mobile, it's important the pizzas turnover real quick!" Using the grunt of manuka, the two fire the oven for an hour before baking can begin. Once the thermo reaches 300 degrees, pizzas take only 3-4 minutes.
"We heat the interior of the oven (lined with bricks) with manuka, then empty it out and keep it fired from the stoker below.
Wood fired ovens are really popular in Germany, and in our case it provides a lovely dry heat with a wood-smoky flavor that you simply can't get with gas or electricity."
A recent accolade for Stefan was a combined win with Craggy Range winning the Lamb and Beef award at Toast of Martinborough 2005. "I was just the guy in the, background really. It was great to work with such professionals. "The special recipe pizzas included a Japanese marinated beef topping with asparagus and red onions. But it was the quality of the crispy pizza bases that was singled out for praise by the judges. People can order almost anything they want. It's more a matter of what they don't want as a topping."
If there's a major event Hawke's Bay Stefan's sure to be there- or if you are after a more regular slice of heaven you'll find him at Hastings Farmer's Market on Sunday mornings.
And as to the chef and the German cuisine contribution