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Wood Stone's Merrill Bevan on the Local Origins of High-Profile Restaurant Ovens Around the World

Josper at Cafe Lago, Montlake
Josper at Cafe Lago, Montlake
S. Pratt

With the exception of Neapolitan pizza restaurants, diners seldom know or care about the ovens and other equipment that produce the food they eat. However in this new age of restaurant nerdery, such details have begun cropping up in mainstream restaurant write-ups. Recently Seattle has seen mentions of the dedicated pretzel oven at Tom Douglas's Brave Horse Tavern, the occasional oven mishap, and mentions of the new-to-America Josper oven.

Similarly, few diners are familiar with Bellingham-based Wood Stone Corp., but the company quietly supplies Washington-built ovens and other products to big name chefs and high-profile restaurants locally, around the country, and beyond. Eater recently spoke with Wood Stone vice president Merrill Bevan about some of the special oven jobs its done for restaurants here and elsewhere, and why, exactly, the Josper is going to become a big deal.

Tell me a little about Wood Stone. The company was incorporated in 1990 by two gentlemen, Keith Carpenter and Harry Hegarty. The first Wood Stone oven we built and sold in 1990 went to the space that's now Anthony's Woodfire Grill in Everett. It’s still there today. Recently we shipped oven number 9,000. We’re in all 50 states and over 75 countries in the world.

The special pretzel oven you did for Brave Horse Tavern has been getting some attention lately. It’s actually from our Bistro line of ovens, one of our standard models. It’s the first time I’m aware of that someone has focused on the oven as a pretzel oven. But what makes it custom is the person standing in front of it.

And now you're bringing over the Josper oven from Spain? We build them under license; we're partners with Josper for North America.

Why is the Josper such a big deal? It's such a beautiful piece of artisan cooking equipment. It helps create such a unique flavor profile. It's a charcoal broiler oven as opposed to an open charbroiler, which is a firebox with a grill grate above it. What's different about the Josper is by enclosing that charbroiler, you create much more fuel efficiency. The heat's not just coming from below; it's captured in this chamber-like oven. Things cook a little faster. The flavor starts to change for two important reasons. The smoke is in that cooking chamber longer than when you just have an open charbroiler with smoke going up the exhaust. It’s a different flavor profile. Also, heat is coming from all directions at once.

We are in the very early days of the Josper for North America. I think in a few years it will be very widely known within the chef circles. They started about 40 years ago in Europe. Gordon Ramsay has one at the Savoy Grill, and Heston Blumenthal's new restaurant, Dinner, Josper is a very key part of the setup there. Three-star Michelin chefs in Spain and all across Europe use the Josper. It’s also at the heart of Hakkasan, which was the first Asian concept to receive a Michelin star in London in 30 or 40 years. The Hakkasan in Miami was the first one we supplied, and they have plans for more in North America.

How many are currently in the US? It's under 10 at the moment. In addition to Hakkasan at the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami, there's Earth, Wood & Fire that's opening this fall in Baltimore, Red Fox Bar & Grille in New Hampshire, and The Grind in Phoenix. There are also some pretty high profile projects that you’ll see in the next year or so.

What about Seattle? Café Lago had the first one. El Gaucho has a couple units they use with their catering. At this time they didn't have an opportunity to put it into one of their restaurant locations yet.

Is the Josper difficult to install? It takes a little extra planning and extra consideration. You have to vent it correctly and install it. For existing restaurants, it’s not just ‘pull out the fryer and put the Josper in.’ That’s why I think you’ll see many more Jospers in the next few years, in new projects and planned renovations where restaurants can put in the correct infrastructure.

How was Café Lago able to install theirs? We did an event and invited some of our local friends and customers to come and see the Josper. [Owner] Jordi [Viladas] got to come, and they already had one of our wood-fired ovens with the right kind of hood.

What other ovens are you most proud of around the country? You mean which child do we love best? There are a lot of projects we’re really excited about. We were in Chicago recently and it was fun to hear how well Art Smith's Table 52 is doing. Another one in Chicago is the Purple Pig. That restaurant uses a piece of equipment we innovated, an electric plancha. It's a very high-temperature flattop. If you went to a diner and saw a griddle, it probably tops out at about 500 degrees. Our plancha goes to 800-plus. There are many, many different ways it can be used. The plancha style of cooking has been popular in Europe for a long time. Willows Inn has one of our planchas as part of its oven suite.

Tom Colicchio has one of our ovens, so does Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in Harlem. From a pizza standpoint we’ve got Tutta Bella and Serious Pie in Seattle. Another one that gets talked about a lot is Pizzeria Mozza, from Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton. They had an Italian oven in their first location and have used ours since. We’re honored and very lucky to get to work with some fabulous chefs.

· All Previous Wood Stone Coverage on Eater Seattle [-ESEA-]

Wood Stone Corp.

1801 W. Bakerview Rd. Bellingham, WA