Rupert Bates Winter 2022
Make Pizza. It’s a simple slogan and everything Ooni is about, whether your topping of choice is a classic Neopolitan Margherita, a sweetcorn and ‘nduja, or a chocolate, caramel and peanut candy bar pizza.
I have clicked on the Ooni recipe pages and am still scrolling – and drooling. We love to advocate BBQ 365. There is surely an Ooni 365 challenge to be done, given the huge range of ingredients, be they conventional or audacious, you can layer onto a pizza and cook in an Ooni oven.
It’s not just pizza; how about herb-marinated lamb chops using the Ooni dual-sided grizzler plate, or wood-fired baked ham for Christmas. I am also going to experiment with BBQ magazine’s very own Sizzler New Zealand Pale Ale to create beer pizza dough, with Ooni explaining how beer hydrates the flour instead of water, while also providing a source of malt to feed the dough’s growth, while adding a golden colour to the crust.
Ooni, based in Edinburgh and one of the UK’s fastest-growing private businesses, is celebrating its 10th birthday, founded by co-CEOs Kristian Tapaninaho and Darina Garland, his wife.
Ooni, says Kristian, was born of personal frustration. How grateful millions of customers around the world are that the Finn – Ooni is the phonetic spelling of the Finnish word for oven – didn’t give in to that frustration 10 years ago.
Kristian always loved making pizzas, but wanted to refine how best to cook them, while creating an accessible, affordable, portable product. He tinkered endlessly in his shed; got local help with some welding – trial and error and average pizzas to start with, however they got better and better.
But was this obsession his alone? Was there a market out there? In answer, he launched a Kickstarter funding campaign in 2012 and the rest is history.
Outdoor cooking lit a fire from an early age; childhood memories of Kristian’s grandparents’ farm in Pyhäjärvi, five hours north of Helsinki – campfire cooking over wood in a country of forests and lakes, where food gatherings and experiences were second nature.
Nothing has changed in that respect, for ‘creating exceptional food experiences and shared moments’ remains the Ooni purpose.
“The heart of our business is fantastic cooking products, but also our accessories, with our pellets, peels, charcoal and hardwood, and now groceries, including frozen doughballs.”
To a young child stretching dough and sprinkling cheese, to a professional pizzaiolo making pizza of epic flavour and invention, this form of cooking is for everyone.
The caricature of the outdoor cook is the ‘hero dad’ playing with fire and refusing to yield apron, tongs or pizza peel regardless of his skill level, real or imagined.
“We can help anyone cook pizza better. And one trend we’ve seen recently is students clubbing together to buy an Ooni, cooking and socialising with friends, while saving money on going out or buying in pizzas.”
Not only is it sociable and accessible – Ooni at Uni – it gets young people into cooking, constantly looking to improve to impress house mates and even creating healthy, fun competition as the wood-fired oven becomes the centrepiece of the party.
At the other end of the age range, says Kristian, are retired couples who use the social aspect of communal cooking round a wood-fired oven to reconnect with their children and grandchildren when they visit, be they meat-lovers, vegetarians, vegans, or kids wide-eyed and wired by the prospect of that chocolate, caramel and peanut candy bar pizza.
“There is nothing more satisfying or rewarding than being a business that brings families together,” says Kristian.
“Our kids cook pizza with us. They love it. It is a great way of introducing children to cooking and ingredients, such as vegetables, they would normally try to avoid. You can hide veggies in plain sight! To them it’s just a pizza. A pizza was the first time we got our children to eat mushrooms.”
Ooni’s West Lothian home in Broxburn near Edinburgh – flour of Scotland indeed – is a hive of activity; not just bringing new products to market through design and engineering, but constantly innovating and improving, with research and development key to evolution and execution, delivering for customers across the world. Ooni recently opened an office in Melbourne, Australia and also has regional headquarters in Austin, Texas and Bonn, Germany.
Sustainability is a key ingredient too, with Ooni a member of 1% for the Planet, running an impact fund, donating 1% of revenue to social and environmental causes and planting a tree for every oven it sells - 4.3 million and counting.
No matter the role, it seems every Ooni employee is addicted to pizza, which is a great head-start when it comes to staff engagement and satisfaction, creating what you love to cook on and curating new recipes to showcase your range of ovens and accessories.
A Bright Ideas initiative sees staff comes up with design, technology and topping suggestions.
“We cook pizza almost every day in the office. Our team has the Crust Trust with a new pizza theme every week.”
It is not only great fun; it means pizza-making is quite literally always at their fingertips, understanding the nuances of product, temperature and taste.
“We don’t just create memories for customers; we want our staff to feel those experiences too. Many of them are outstanding pizzaiolos, who could easily get jobs cooking pizza, not that I want to lose them!”
I first spoke to Kristian two years ago during lockdown and we have still not met in person. A trip to Scotland is called for. I’m thinking I could pitch up about, I don’t know Kristian, lunchtime?
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