What’s your role at The Fire Brick Oven Pizza and Bar?
I’m the Corporate Executive Chef for the Atwells Restaurant Group. I oversee Fire, Providence Prime and Providence Oyster Bar. My job at these three restaurants is primarily management, but I spend the summers on Block Island at the Spring House Hotel, where I’m more hands-on in the kitchen. It’s a good balance for me.
How would you describe The Fire’s philosophy?
Regional Italian cooking, made in-house from scratch. We put a lot of value in fresh ingredients. For example, we cook all pasta “a la minute” - to order - instead of pre-cooking and reheating it in sauce, as many restaurants do. A specialty is our wood-fired oven.
Tell me about that brick oven.
It’s a Wood Stone oven from California – a combination oven that’s both wood and gas powered. In a wood-only oven, when you add food, it absorbs the heat and brings down the temperature. The addition of gas keeps the heat high and consistent. Our oven stays at over 800 degrees all day; it’s burning from 10am until midnight.
Of course we use the oven for our pizzas, but we also cook several of our appetizers and entrees in there. We even use it for prep, such as for roasting the peppers and sausage for sides and pizza toppings.
What makes your pizza special?
All of it: the pizza dough to the toppings to the ingredients. We use Caputo flour, which is finer grained and higher in gluten – it gives the pizza a crispier dough. We don’t overload it with any one ingredient, so it’s unlike the super cheesy pizza you get at most chains. The toppings are minimal and well-balanced (so the sauce, cheese and toppings don’t overwhelm each other) and create a cohesive whole.
Using the wood oven gets the dough much hotter. Our pizzas are cooked within 90 seconds, two minutes tops. This cooks the pizza unevenly – which is actually desired. Some parts of the pizza are almost charred, which gives it a great flavor.
What are some of the non-pizza specialties at The Fire?
Definitely our pastas, because they’re cooked to order with high quality pasta, fresh water and good sauces. Our number one selling entree is Rigatoni Insaccati, which features fresh ground veal sausage blended with a nutmeg cream sauce with crimini mushrooms, green peas and Asiago cheese, finished with a hint of crushed red pepper and basil. Another popular choice is the Gnocchi Sorrento. It’s made with a three-cheese pink sauce and baked in the wood oven.
Aside from pasta, another popular choice is the Wood Roasted Lemon Chicken, prepared Tuscan style. It’s a split and quartered whole chicken with hints of rosemary, lemon, white wine and garlic, served with charred bell peppers and roasted red bliss potatoes. All parts of this dish, including the sides, are prepared in the wood oven.
What’s one of your favorite local suppliers?
We buy our chicken from Buffoni’s in Johnston. If you want to taste their chicken, try the Wood Roasted Lemon Chicken or come by on Sunday night, when we have an all-you-can-eat Tuscan chicken dinner, also roasted in the wood oven. The Sunday night dinner is really affordable. We try to keep the prices low because we want to be a neighborhood restaurant.
How did you get your start in the food industry?
Like most chefs, I found my way to the food industry through a summer job, working for my father who was running a country club on the north shore of Boston. Like a lot of people, I started as a dishwasher... after a few months, someone doesn’t show up for work, and before you know it, they hand you a knife and you’re doing prep. At some point, I realized I liked working in the restaurant industry and wanted to continue to culinary school, so I went to Johnson & Wales.
I liked the cooking, working late and sleeping late in the morning. Before I was 21, I couldn’t go to the bar, so my late nights at work became my entertainment. I found camaraderie and a place for myself. And a night life that wasn’t sitting in someone’s parents’ basement.
Who were your early food influences?
My family. I remember my grandmother making polenta at the kitchen table and my grandfather bringing in squirrels from the backyard. Growing up, my father and I would watch all the PBS cooking shows together – chefs like Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. When I graduated from Johnson & Wales, Julia Child was our main graduation day speaker, so it all came full circle.