A new piece of equipment is getting a rise out of faculty and students at Kendall College, but it’s not in one of the commercial-grade kitchens. It’s in the courtyard.
“Wood-fired ovens are usually built outdoors,” says School of Culinary Arts instructor Melina Kelson-Podolsky, CMB, CEPC, CSC. “Historically, many towns had a baker who baked home-prepared loaves. The oven was used as a community gathering site.”
That’s the intent of Kendall’s wood-fired bread oven: to create a sense of community. But it’s not the oven’s only purpose.
“It’s used across the curriculum—everything from drying herbs to roasting meats to baking pastry and breads,” says Kelson-Podolsky. Guests of Kendall’s highly rated Dining Room also benefit; the outdoor oven is often employed to cook pizza specials on the lunch menu.
Construction of the oven, which began last summer, was a painstaking process that encompassed several months and capitalized on the talents of several local artisans. The “guts” of the oven were completed by a team of five students, Kelson-Podolsky and another baker with oven-building experience.
According to Kelson-Podolsky, the outdoor oven will expand students’ learning. “Baking bread in an oven like this is a completely different skill set than baking in a regular bread oven,” she says.
Christopher Koetke, CEC, CCE, Kendall College’s dean of culinary arts, says “Breads and meats from an outdoor, wood-fired promote the interaction between the mouth and nose in a way that recalls rustic cooking of yesteryear. The sensory experience is enticingly nostalgic, and leaves us hungry for more.” Koetke adds that periodic tasting events for the local community and greater Chicago area will expose more people to the tantalizing flavors and aromas of foods cooked in the new oven.