“Who doesn’t like pizza? I’ve never run into anyone who doesn’t like pizza, have you?” Tony Gioburn asked.
Of course, the man who started a business called Tony G’s Pizza Ovens might be a little biased when it comes to food preferences, but he has a point.
Tony learned to cook at a young age. As he was growing up in Portland he started helping his mother in the kitchen when he was about six years old, and they would cook exotic foods even then. Sunday dinners were a big family event which included his Swedish grandparents on one side of the family and Basque Spanish grand- parents on the other. “Some of the stuff we ate were just crazy combinations of those cultures,” Tony said. His passion for food only deepened as the culinary scene expanded over the last twenty years and turned its focus to local and seasonal ingredients.
Several years ago while living in California, on a frazzled day Tony made a quick stop at the lone pizza place in town. It was a decent pizza, but he realized he could make a great one at home for less money and with better ingredients. So he researched recipes and techniques and set to work in the kitchen. Tony’s main tip for a good homemade pizza: it’s all about the homemade dough. “[Now] we work with a dough that’s quite hydrated and wet. We do counter rises. It has a little bit of yeast and it sits on the counter for a couple days, rising at room temperature. That’s where the flavor comes from. It’s so easy to do—four cups of flour, salt, yeast, maybe a little organic olive oil. The beauty of it is you control the ingredients. I like a saltier dough; some people don’t. It’s all up to you.”
After years of experimenting with different dough recipes, it only seemed logical that the next step was to find the perfect vessel for cooking the pizza. And in Tony’s opinion, there is no better option for truly amazing pizza than a wood-fired oven.
Around the time he moved back to Portland, finding a solution became his new focus. “I toyed with the idea of doing a brick oven, one that was small enough that I could do myself. But it seemed impractical. We’re such a transient society, it didn’t seem feasible to put even a $5,000 brick oven in your backyard because then you end up moving after a few years”, Tony said. “I felt that there had to be a portable but serious oven that I could buy that wasn’t $10,000, and I wasn’t finding anything like what I had in mind.”
It’s not that he was trying to reinvent the outdoor oven. Tony envisioned something that could be packed up for a camping trip, tail- gate parties, or any other gathering. Most importantly, he wanted it to be a piece of your backyard that you could take if you ever moved. What Tony ended up designing is as effective as a commercial oven, reaching 550 to 600 degrees (a temperature level that home ovens aren’t designed for), and one that is also easily transportable.
After eight months of planning and searching, Tony found a manufacturer who could modify an existing oven design to fit all of his requirements. Tony’s oldest sons, Nathan and Sean, are working with him on this new endeavor. Both work in the restaurant industry in Portland; Nathan as a sous chef and Sean as a mixologist. “It’s been a blast cooking with them and having their help,” Tony said.
About a year and a half ago, their first ovens were produced. The ovens range from $1,699 for the red and black versions to $1,899 for stainless steel which is the most popular option. Turnaround time for an oven order is currently around 90 days. To demonstrate the power and wonder of the ovens, Tony and his sons cook every other month for the 3rd Friday events at Burnt Bridge Cellars in Vancouver.
“One thing I wanted to do when I moved home to Portland was to go back to the Sunday dinners we had when I was a kid,” Tony said. The idea of bringing in the family and creating a community around food is another driving force for creating the pizza ovens. “I don’t want to just sell pizza ovens. We want to teach people how to cook (with the ovens), share our recipes, and build a community.”
For an example of their possible recipe offerings, Tony shared one of Nathan’s recent creations: “Nathan did a pizza the other night with grapes, smoked Gouda, oyster mushrooms, and some pomegranate balsamic vinegar sprinkled on top. It was an unbelievable flavor combination.”
But there are endless possible meals to cook in the oven beyond just pizza. Tony and his family also love to experiment using Dutch ovens and cast iron skillets. They have made steaks, stews, roasted vegetables, salmon, artisan breads, brownies, cobblers— it’s an oven for all types of cooking. “It will become the centerpiece of your deck,” Tony said.
Now that he is living in Portland again, Tony appreciates that the abundance of good food in the area is being rediscovered by a new wave of people. “I grew up here in the 60s and 70s. So much of Portland is still the same,” Tony said. “The thing that has changed, even though it’s always been here, is the farm to table idea, or having gardens. Back when I was a kid, you had a garden. You just did. And I remember my mom and grandma driving out to Hood River to buy cases of cherries, pears, and apples, and canning them for the winter. It’s always been a great environment for growing and raising food, whether that’s livestock or vegetables. I think the influx of people coming here have real- ized the Northwest has such a variety of ingredients, from the best seafood and fresh river salmon to all the fruits and vegetables.” He paused and said, “And all of those things can go on a pizza!”