A fire possesses a mesmerizing power. Standing before the yellow and red flames as they lap against logs of wood, slowly turning them from brown to gray and black char, it’s impossible to tear your gaze away, especially when the winter temperatures turn cold. Fire does more than just warm and fuel the long, dark nights. It is also an excellent way to cook food.
Ann Kim, the Mäverick, knows this better than most others. Inside her Minneapolis restaurant, Pizzeria Lola, customers flock not only for her perfectly char-kissed pizzas, but for the dancing flames that drawn the eye and warm cold toes. Cooking with open flame, however, is not for the faint of heart. “It’s really about a willingness to experiment,” says Kim. “It takes time to develop the muscle memory. You can’t change the temperature with flames. However, once you figure it out, it’s one of my favorite ways to cook food. The key is to keep your eye on it. You can’t walk away.”
Deciding what and how to cook with fire is also a matter of taste. “It’s like roasting the perfect campfire marshmallow. Some want the char of the flame while others prefer the golden melt of the coals. Figure out what you want and then you can figure out how to get there,” says Kim.
Kim loves to roast vegetables using her blade of choice, WÜSTHOF CLASSIC 8″ Vegetable Knife. The cauliflower she serves at Lola or the Brussels sprouts, both have converted eaters who swore they hated the veggies in question. To boost the flavors, Kim hits them with a touch of acid before serving. The Brussels get a dose of sherry vinegar for tartness and a bit of sweetness. The cauliflower is seasoned with lemon juice and chilies. “I love heat,” she said. “The kick of fresh chili with the finish of citrus zest—there’s nothing better.”
When approaching a meat and flame, it is key to consider the shape and size of the cut. A whole roast chicken would be difficult to handle over a flame, but shove a cast iron skillet filled with fatty, pork sausages into a fire and brace for a captivating sizzle. “Koreans love that char on meat, like Korean-style short ribs. We pre-cook ours at the restaurant before using them as a pizza topping,” says Kim. The thin, smaller pieces of meat are easy to tend to, cooking all the way through with just a bit of that dark crispy, fire-kissed flavor.
“Once you’ve mastered this technique, you feel really cave woman-y. It’s visceral. That’s why I decided to open a wood-fired pizzeria. I fell in love with the flame. It’s pretty. It’s sexy and it’s also pretty quick. People love to sit around the bar and watch their food cook.”
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