Friday 14 November 2014

Comfort Zones

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It’s over a year since I travelled 5000 miles to work at Pizzicletta, where did that go?

Back then I still had the day job and was about to take a leap out of my comfort zone to start our own business. Fast forward a year and I find myself at River Cottage with a badge labelled ‘chef’ consulting for an oven builder. Now I’m the last person to describe myself as a chef, cook is generous and baker more accurate but thankfully the owner of the best pizzeria in NYC once told me you don’t have to be a chef to make amazing pizza. In fact it helps if you’re not.

It’s been an incredible summer

Our first season with the Berthamobile went better than we could have ever hoped. Thank you. I really mean that. It was a pleasure to continue our series meeting suppliers and finally make it over to the Isle of Wight to see where our tomatoes come from. We'll be updating the website over the coming weeks with pictures from the summer and some very talented friends - take a bow Tim Griffiths.

Glutton for punishment

With the rhythms of the mobile business becoming familiar we’re once again stepping outside of our comfort zone. This time a leap - into the world of bricks and mortar, long term leases and scary restaurant fit out costs. But the passion’s there. It’s driving us.

Gluten for pleasure

Back at the development kitchen [read domestic] we’ve continued to tinker with our dough and through an anal system of logging, notes and gradual iteration we’ve taken a step closer to the pizza in my mind’s eye. Whilst there’s no such thing as a perfect pizza we’re committed to improving ours each day.

Currently we’re in a period of adjustment, which is why you won’t see us roaming the streets as often. We’re doing our best to juggle the mobile business alongside the restaurant plans and have several weekend dates in the diary, along with an exciting pop-up planned at Bristol’s sourdough mecca - Hart’s Bakery - on Friday 28th November. Full event schedule here.


It was always our aim to be candid throughout this process and my respect grows each day for all those who’ve ventured down this path. Kate’s back in London mid-week which pays the bills but adds to the strain. I flip between euphoric excitement and overwhelming despair depending on the latest fun and games with the agents. But it’s the vision that keeps us going - of a modest neighbourhood restaurant serving the best pizza in Bristol and beyond, that and our home cured bacon.

Everyone should cure their own bacon.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Charity shop trousers

“Just to confirm…”

Never the best start to an email.

It was 12:30 and we were mid way through a busy lunch service in the middle of summer. A beautiful day to be stood anywhere but the mouth of a 500º oven. I was wearing shorts.

“… no shorts will be permitted onsite”

A building site.

I’d been chasing for a viewing for months, our allotted slot fell between a lunch and dinner service but the dress code caught me by surprise. A building site with a dress code.

As the last lunch order hit the spike I headed to the viewing, charity shop on route and I was the proud owner of some M&S Blue Harbour trousers several sizes too big, £4.50 including the tissue in the pocket.

I made the viewing and we’ve placed an offer. If all goes to plan the trousers are going on the wall.

We’ll have no dress code.

Friday 29 August 2014

The Tomato Stall Visit - Isle of Wight

Pizza's simple. Good ingredients on good bread. We're proud to source our tomatoes from the lovely people at The Tomato Stall on the Isle of Wight. Ripened on the vine, picked at their peak, with varieties selected for flavour not yield - what's not to love.

Here's a short film on our trip to the sunniest part of the UK:

The Tomato Stall Visit - Isle of Wight from BerthasPizza on Vimeo.

Tuesday 12 August 2014


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Everyone loves the summer

At least that's what I used to think but it turns out I was wrong. Our dough hates it.

With ‘cold’ tap water above 22ºC and night temperatures remaining in the 20s there's been nowhere to hide. We’ve always walked the tightrope of longer proofing times, pushing the ferments further so the gluten breaks down into something that’s equally delicious as digestible, but when the temperature rises it’s hard not to have a few wobbles. Acidity increases, degradation accelerates and you’re left cradling each dough ball like a newborn.

Tweak, test, iterate, adapt

The easy way out would have been to switch to commercial yeast, drastically cut the ferment times and hope most wouldn’t notice but where’s the fun in that. Out came the textbooks, academic papers on microbial specific growth rates and numerous chats with some of the best in the business. Particular thanks to the Harts Bakery team and Emily Buehler, the author of the brilliant and aptly named Bread Science book. In a nod to my previous life as an engineer I also swapped the temperature controller of a chest freezer so we have a giant chest fridge / proofing chamber. Never before have I got so excited about white goods.

Bertha to the rescue

And then the weather changed again, Hurricane Bertha blew through and it’s 5 degrees cooler. Percentages and timings have changed once again, but at least this feels more familiar territory. Regardless we’re in a much better place now, we understand more, we appreciate more. We're ready for the sun again.

So what else has been going on

Well we’re finally Bristol residents and enjoying a regular spot at Temple Quay Market. To the loyal customers who’ve visited on every appearance - thank you - as promised we’ll be serving up your favourite with fresh cherries, gorgonzola and smoked bacon this Thursday.

We went foraging with Chris of Heavenly Hedgerows, July might be known as hungry month but we came back brimming with ideas, first up to try will be a bianca sausage pizza finished with wild mustard flowers, who fancies that?

If all that wasn’t enough we also found our way onto the front of The Landy Magazine, in their words ‘the tastiest 110 of all time’  and who are we to argue.

We’re heading to Southville

On the 31st August we will be making our debut at the Tobacco Factory Sunday market. We’ve been big fans of this buzzing market for some time so it’ll be great to finally be a part of it.

Starting in September we'll also be firing up at the Hungry Caterpillar play cafe to provide pizzas at lunchtime and into the evening. 

"So where's your restaurant?"

This is the second most popular question we're asked after "did you trade at Glastonbury" - we didn't, although our mozzarella does come from a farm there. As for the restaurant we've started the process of looking at potential spaces - who'd like a wood fired sourdough pizza joint down their road?

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Heavenly hedgerows indeed

Moving house is stressful, moving a house come pizzeria more so. But what better antidote than a stroll in the countryside, particularly if it’s brought to life by a true naturalist (I’m hoping that’s an expert in fauna and flora rather than someone with a liberal attitude to clothing). Cue Chris of Heavenly Hedgerows, we’ve long been a fan of her range of wild produce and keen to expand our foraged toppings she was gracious enough to let us tag along for a walk.

July’s known as the hungry month but there was plenty to see and learn, Chris’ enthusiasm is contagious. It was fascinating to hear the histories, from pineapple weed - yes it really does smell of pineapple - which was introduced to Kew Gardens only to escape around the country on the soles of shoes, to the mallow plant with its edible pink flowers - the origin of marshmallows. It's fair to say my interest in plants is biased by what's edible and the culinary highlight was a wild mustard, I'd have mistook it for rapeseed, but the bright yellow flowers with a mustard kick would be the perfect way to finish a white base, sausage pizza.

After our stroll in the sun we returned to Heavenly Hedgerow HQ to cook up what we'd found. I failed miserable to recall the names of our bounty, but I’ll put that down to the volume of information in such a sort period, not my appalling memory. Chris and family share their home - well garden - with 7 hives, close to a million bees on her doorstep and it turns out Chris is afraid of bees. Now that's dedication, it'd be like me being afraid of flour.

Heavenly hedgerows can be found at the following stockists and I'd wholeheartedly recommend her foraging walks:

Thursday 29 May 2014

The smoke's rising

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500 pizzas in and we’re starting to find our rhythm

In the words of McDonalds

The learning curve’s been steep, steep and damp, so much for the start of the British summer, but we’re lovin’ it. We’ve carried each other through the 3am starts, the repeated drenchings, and hungover, post wedding dough balling marathons and are more determined than ever to push on and setup shop in Bristol.

Events so far

Our first events with the Arch Climbing Centre couldn’t have gone better, 150 pizzas sold and over £500 raised towards Meningitis Now, we were proud to contribute to the pot. We trundled 300 miles up the country to the Lake District to serve pizzas at a wedding. 295 miles of jostling with lorries in the slow lane, 5 miles of bliss on a sheer gravel dirt track when the Landy came into it’s own.

From there to Bristol. To finally serve our pizzas in Bristol. 150 pizzas done. We’d hoped to push the crowd, to steer them to something more unusual but our creamed wild nettle special was first to sell out and it seemed half the people we spoke to dabbled in their own foraging - respect Bristolians, we’re heading to the right place. 

A menu to suit the location

After that we were rained on in both Wales and Dorset. At a private event in the Valleys - Rayfest - where the musical talents of the family kept us singing in the rain. Our ‘decent Dominos’ selection went down well and without wanting to sound like an M&S advert the pulled gammon and slow roasted pineapple with clove and allspice seemed to be well received. Then to Dorset, dough riding in the front, where the stresses of small village politics caused us to take up smoking

Converging on Bristol

Our focus now is on moving to Bristol although the rental market there seems to have other plans, we lost out on two flats while driving down the M4 to view them and I’ll end my comments there before this turns into a rant. On a more positive note we’ve got our first St Mungo’s event on the 4th June when we’ll be catering for their volunteer celebration event, it’s quite a commute from London but we’re determined to launch this partnership and start collaborating with their centre.

From July onwards we’ll start to become regulars at the Temple Quay markets which means we’ll have finally found a flat in Bristol or you’ll find us camping somewhere in the Mendips.

Berthamobile on tour

For those outside the South West we’ve got a few other events confirmed around the country. On 20th and 21st June we’re teaming up with the Parlour Cafe for a 2 day residency in Burnham on Crouch. Coinciding with the longest day of the year we’ll be serving up sourdough, solstice slices - wittier puns or alliteration would be gratefully received at the address below.

3rd July is our Temple Quay debut before dashing up north the next day for the Grand Depart - Chris, Team Sky, if you’re listening, I promise to fast track your order if you cycle past for a take out.

It turns out starting a business is a lot like lighting a fire, when the flames are roaring, when the idea’s established things get easier but we’re not there yet.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

We've started smoking

Bertha’s been feeling a little left out since the Berthamobile came on the scene, so to make up for the lack of action we thought we’d experiment with some hot smoking.

We had an event down in Dorset over the weekend and to link in with the local seafood festival we hot smoked some salmon for the occasion, here’s how we did it.

12 hour cure consisting of:
 - 80:20 mix of rock salt and molasses sugar
 - We also added some ground pink pepper corns, allspice and cloves but these spices didn’t come through in the flavour so we’d skip this next time

Rolling the salmon in the mix we left it overnight to cure. In the morning we rinsed off the salt and set it aside for the smoker.

After firing up Bertha on kindling we chopped some fine sticks of beech and added these to the fire, once the flames took we added the salmon and boxed up the oven.

15 minutes later the salmon was cooked and it turned out some of the best hot smoked fish we’ve tried; pair that with some ricotta and watercress and you've got one of our current favourite pizza toppings  - the old girl’s still got it.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Lighting a fire / Starting a business

Friday morning was cold. Cold and damp. We’d not lit the fire in weeks and she was sulking. The rain got heavier as I carried the logs over to the Landy and my t-shirt clung to my back - even the northerner in me was starting to concede this was a poor choice of clothing. The first match didn’t take. Nor the second. Nor the third. I was damp at best.

But we got there, eventually the kindling took, then the logs, the oven warmed and we had a great event that evening. It stuck me though, while standing there nurturing the flames, that lighting a fire's a lot like starting a business. Here are the notes I jotted down in the rain:

The initial spark, that first idea burns bright but struggles to take hold

You need to convince those around you, the body of the oven has to warm. Your energy pours into the surroundings

If you don’t work at it, if you don’t keep working at it, you lose that heat, that momentum and have to start again

Early on one damp log chokes the flames. You need to work with the best, be it people or wood 

There will be damp days, cold days, days when you have to cup the embers and blow to keep the dream alive

When the flames are roaring, when the idea’s established things get easier but we’re not there yet

Thursday 17 April 2014

The fire’s lit

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It’s quite likely a dog’s peed here

Residential North London isn’t the easiest area to cure an oven. I’m sat writing this while tending to the fire. And what a fire. The Dragon Oven team have done us proud. Setting that first match to the inside of my first car was still pretty surreal but with a month or so of regular fires required to drive out the water there was no hanging about.

So what have we been up to?

Well needless to say the last couple of months have flown by. I’ve now quit my job and the transition from banker to baker is underway. We spent sometime with the Honest Crust guys helping them out on their stall and can’t have been completely hopeless as they floated the idea of nipping off to the pub and leaving us to it a couple of times.

We officially live in a pizzeria

We’ve spent a lot of time ordering equipment and boy do you need a lot of equipment. There’s no hiding the fact we’re launching a pizza business now, but unexpected perks include giant domino rally.

Meeting suppliers

The real joy comes from meeting suppliers though and we’ve already teamed up with some amazing talent. The Cobble Lane lads really are meat meastros and it was during one particularly gluttonous tasting session where a smile was etched onto my face on realising that this actually counted as work.

We’re hoping to source our tomatoes from the Isle of Wight, not only are these closer to home but they taste incredible. It’s a learning curve for all of us, their largest passata container was previously 500ml so we’ll be upscaling somewhat, but we’ve no doubt all the work now will pay off and the plan’s to host a pizza party on their farm to celebrate the collaboration.

Bristol Bound

We’re now officially members of BEATS, the coolest sounding organisation which has ever let me amongst its ranks. Bristol Eats or BEATS is Bristol’s street food collective, an affable bunch focussed on bringing the best food, music and art to Bristol’s streets.

Whilst last in town I also got to meet up with the team behind Bristol’s St Mungo’s homeless centre. Our first event in Bristol is looking to be linked to their centre and we’re particularly excited about a partnership whereby unused dough balls from the markets would go to make bread for the homeless.

Where to find us

Our soft launch at the Arch last Friday was awesome and we sold out within a couple of hours. The main event will be a couple of weeks later on 25th April linking in with their last Friday of the month competition so why not come along for a climb and a pizza. If any more incentive’s required both nights tie into their charity push and we’ll be donating £1 from every pizza sold to the charity of the month.

After that it’s to the hills, to a wedding half way up the Old Man of Coniston. I will be engaging diff lock and low range gearbox purely because I can as we trundle up the track to the venue. Keep an eye out for pictures, we can’t wait to see the Landy churning out pizza with views of the Lake District stretching below.

The fire’s building, watch it glow...

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Meat Maestros

One of the best things about starting a pizza business has to be meeting new suppliers. And as suppliers go Cobble Lane Cured are pretty special. They’re Mat, Matt and Adam and have been going under the name of Cobble Lane for almost a year now - it’s their birthday tomorrow in fact. Their ‘paper anniversary’ doesn’t do their experience justice. Strike up a conversation and it’s soon apparent these guys know what they’re talking about - I spent a happy hour chatting away about the various cuts, brines, cures, ferments and subtleties of their porky process.

Currently they process around 3 pigs a week all hand butchered and you’ll see the bubbling cauldron of the brine they’re using, the herbs harking back to what was found on the mountain pastures where charcuterie was born.

I was drawn to the fattier cuts, nduja, pepperoni and guinciale. Cuts full of flavour which will release their oils and start to crisp and char in the heat of our oven. They were incredible. The spicier varieties particularly standing out, where you can still pick out the notes of seasoning before the punch of the chilli comes though - meat maestros.

Cobble Lane Cured can be found at 25a Cobble Lane or on top of our pizzas

Thursday 27 February 2014

It feels like 2014 is going to be a big year

With almost two months down we’re long overdue an update. If you’re already on our mailing list you’ll have heard most of this via our first newsletter a couple of weeks back and if you’ve not signed up then here’s the link.

So why the update. Why now? Well things are really starting to get somewhere. We’re accelerating.

Bertha's Pizza has wheels... albeit no oven

A couple of weeks ago we picked up the wheels for ‘mobile Bertha’, the perfect grey Land Rover Defender.

Okay, she's yellow. Very yellow. But yellow’s also Kate’s favourite colour and we may as well stand out at the markets. Some things are clearly meant to be.

It amuses me that my very first car is a two tonne Land Rover to which we’ll be adding an additional half tonne of oven. After collecting her from Birmingham we drove the 180 miles to Essex where we’re having our oven fitted by the excellent Dragon Ovens. Turns out life in a Landy moves at a slower pace. She has the aerodynamics of a shed. But having settled into a steady 60mph it was a fun drive.

One month to showtime

We now have a month or so of oven fitting ahead of us giving us time to finish the branding, order all the equipment, complete the food hygiene requirements and quit the day job. Exciting times. 

What do you think of the logo by the way?
We like that at the heart of it is the outline of the original Bertha. Where all this started.

On the lookout for suppliers, events and pizza eaters

So like I said, we’re getting there and hope to make you a pizza soon. We’re currently speaking to various markets and smaller festivals about arranging spaces. We also want to be involved with charity and community events and have a couple of exciting pipe dreams in mind where the focus will be on giving back.

We’re keen to meet more of our suppliers, watch this space for more videos, I promise not to use the Mario theme tune again. And if you or any of your friends happen to be looking for a caterer to provide wood fired, sourdough pizzas then get in touch.

All together now:
“We all live in a yellow submarine,
A yellow submarine,
Yellow submarine…”

Sunday 26 January 2014

Making Mozz

What’s Rhianna’s favourite cheese? Mozzarella-ella-ella.

Apologies. Even as cheese jokes go that’s a shocker. I’ve been wanting to make mozzarella for some time and inspired by the gents at Pizzicletta who are chuffed with the results of their own cheese making, I thought I’d give it a go this weekend.

So Saturday morning off I cycled to Stoke Newington Farmer’s market coming home with 2 litres of Hook and Son’s finest. I’m not going to regurgitate the recipe, that’s covered very well, here and here. Instead I wanted to share a few pictures of how it turned out:

All things considered it was pretty straight forward. Two litres of milk yielded 200g of mozzarella so it wasn’t the most economical. The recipe suggested a yield closer to twice that but I suspect at least part of that was down to my own over exuberance in kneading the cheese and my excitement of seeing it come together. The plan then was to make re cook the whey to make ricotta, literally “recooked” in italian, and then make Gjetost, a Norwegian brown cheese from what was left over.

This is where my beginners luck ran out though, the ricotta didn’t come together, and my brown cheese remained white. The Google diagnosis was that my whey was probably too acidic, not surprising given I couldn’t source citric acid powder so had guessed the lemon juice equivalent, one whole lemon proved in this case to be the incorrect answer, but you live and learn.