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The love is made in DeliVita

An Italian with a wood-fired oven – it’s got to be pizza. Well, yes, but so much more besides. Rupert Bates talks to DeliVita founder Joe Formisano

 Rupert Bates   Summer 2020

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 #DeliVita # JoeFormisano

 
 

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With a shared love of great food and inspired by Joe Formisano’s Italian heritage, a traditional pizza oven should have been the perfect gift for any husband. Unfortunately, Joe and Faye’s original large clay oven proved more of a disappointment than an asset, taking several hours to reach temperature, consuming large amounts of wood and all too quickly failing in the UK climate.

“We probably only used it a few times due to it taking so long to heat up; you had to be organised and plan around it, not to mention the wood it consumed. Then it cracked,” says Joe Formisano. 

But from the ashes of a broken oven rose a wood-fired phoenix. Realising conventional ovens couldn’t reach the right temperatures, while existing wood-fired ovens were too large, slow, or couldn’t survive the UK weather, Formisano started looking for a better way.

“I realised I needed something that didn’t need hours, or all-day prepping. I wanted the oven to be efficient and eco-friendly, plus it had to look beautiful,” says Formisano.

“But above all, it had to be sociable, an oven that fits in with you, that people can sit around while you cook. So it needed to be portable, and had to sit on any surface without burning.”

There was not just engineering at the heart of the process, but alchemy, with Formisano wanting a creation that would “replicate the taste, flavour and smells of true Italian cooking”.

“It took me about three years to refine the DeliVita, tinkering away in the shed building ovens.”

Eventually, Formisano emerged from the shed with a hit on his hands and the DeliVita, weighing in at under 30kg, is now in 15 countries, including the UK, the US, and Canada, with Australia and South Africa on the radar and an ambition to have three manufacturing plants worldwide by next year.

“I found a manufacturer in Leeds willing to have a go, so I gave up the day job and went for it. That was four years ago,” says Formisano.

“We are talking a classy product here – handcrafted, portable and stylish, honed from years of perspiration and inspiration and with a laser focus on customer service.  We speak to our customers consistently. Personal communication is key. The oven arrives assembled and all you have to do is cure it,” says Formisano.

“From their order to their first use and onwards, we support clients in bonding with their handmade purchase through details like our quality five-year guarantee, a certificate listing which of our craftsmen built their oven, our starter pack and recipe book, as well as instructional videos on curing and using your DeliVita. The whole journey of the oven is so important to us. ‘Welcome to the family’ is more than just a DeliVita marketing mantra; it is the kernel of the company.”

 

 

DeliVita has the artisan’s influence and more than a little Italian style; featuring a handmade clay composite interior and stone base, with hi-tech insulation, brushed marine stainless steel and a polished fibreglass shell in a variety of colours.

The oven only takes around 25 minutes to reach 450°C, and having no chimney can conveniently sit under a gazebo if the rain sets in. Despite reaching temperatures of 550°C+ inside, it also remains safe to touch on the outside shell.

Naturally a passionate advocate of wood cooking and flavours over gas, Formisano says you can comfortably feed a family of four with just a few logs. “Maximum heat but minimal smoke, when using quality kiln-dried wood.”

Formisano’s sustainability credentials mean the oven is highly effective and needs comparatively little wood fuel. “A good kiln-dried hardwood such as beech or ash with low humidity will give you the most efficient burn.”

Formisano moved to Italy when he was 12 before returning to the UK 10 years later. His family are from the Marche region of central Italy on the Adriatic coast.

“My father was originally from Naples, so there’s your pizza heritage too! It’s another cliché, but Italians love to bring people together and put smiles on faces. That’s what great food and cooking can do. That passion has been passed down the generations.”

Notwithstanding the Italian stereotype, Formisano wants DeliVita to avoid being labelled as ‘only’ a pizza oven. “We wanted DeliVita to be about more than just pizza – to bring friends and family together to share great food, to have the versatility to cook just about anything and inspire creativity. You can use the DeliVita as a barbecue, pizza oven, hot smoker, tandoor oven, slow cooker and can even bake.”

With a little practice, controlling the temperature is simple; just gradually add more or less wood. Once the flame has gone you have two and a half hours of slow cooking on retained heat with the oven reducing by around 100°C every half hour.

You can experiment with meat or seafood, with the added depth of wood-fired flavours. Steak or chicken can be sealed straight away with a double hit of flame, retaining the juices in the meat, while vegetables are flash cooked in minutes. Or seal a succulent chateaubriand on DeliVita’s black iron dish; roast for just 10 minutes at 550°C, cover and rest for juicy flavours and serve with a garlic and rosemary flatbread and roasted vegetables.

Having perfected the oven design, Formisano also wanted to offer the ultimate in ‘Pizza-Ease’, so DeliVita’s own artisan Dough to Go was created, supplying a range of high-quality frozen, vegan, organic doughs direct to consumers, delicatessens and farm shops.

Deliberately DeliVita doesn’t supply pre-formed bases – the dough is perfect for hand stretching into pizza or flatbreads, so ideal for getting everyone involved.

“We supply the dough. You supply the friends and family to share great food and good times together.”

DeliVita doesn’t just deliver for the home cook; the catering and franchise side of the business knows the capabilities of this compact creation. With its ability to cook a pizza in 90 seconds and each oven turning out up to 40 artisan pizzas per hour, DeliVita Catering has proved a popular choice for festivals, weddings and events, with its fleet of bikes, smart cars and horseboxes.

In addition, the oven is used by Michelin Star restaurants around the world – testimony to its versatility and ability to cater to the highest standards. One leading UK restaurant uses it as a tandoor oven and another in Sweden purely for smoking.

The ever-curious, endlessly inventive Formisano is targeting the glamping industry too, as well as holiday lets, with the oven maintenance-free as well as durable.

“At my home I have one of the original ovens from our catering arm which has probably cooked 10,000 pizzas in its lifetime and still performs as well as ever. We build our ovens to last.”

Formisano also partners with other high-end brands such as architects and landscape designers who all appreciate, not only its cooking capabilities, but the aesthetics of the oven. On one occasion a Lamborghini dealership gave away a DeliVita bespoke colour-matched oven with their cars.

“Good food is so important to us and it can be a great social event, bringing together family and friends to share special times. It was initially about pizza. We wanted to create an oven that gave us insanely good, authentic-tasting crispy crusts without any of the hassle of your traditional wood-fired ovens; however, we have created something more than this,” says Formisano.

“Our oven is so versatile; it cooks meats, fish, breads and vegetables, which are all sealed with amazing flavours. Our family is just too busy and too demanding to be hanging around for hours waiting to be fed and conventional ovens just don’t deliver that same flavour and crunch.”

A company grown through Yorkshire grit, DeliVita combines British craftsmanship with Italian flair to create La Dolce Vita with DeliVita.

 


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