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Posted December 11, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

Outdoor oventures: Cooking in the backyard is increasing in popularity

By Laetitia Clayton -- lclayton@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- In keeping with an increasing demand for moving the indoors outside, a local company has added one of the area's first outdoor wood-burning brick ovens to its display.

Frederick Block, Brick & Stone in Winchester recently had the oven constructed as part of its outdoor display, which also includes a kitchen, fireplace, fire pit and various walkway designs.

Stephen C. Slaughter, vice president of the family-owned company, said the homeowner trend of building indoor amenities in the backyard has been growing for about 10 years.

"We've seen more and more people, they want to entertain and they want to entertain outside," he said. "It creates extra space, just to enjoy life. All that's been growing, and this [oven] is just the latest thing."

Belgard Hardscapes, located in Manassas, built the oven display, and said it's actually the first one they've constructed in the entire country. Frederick Block, Brick & Stone is an authorized dealer of Belgard paving stones and retaining wall systems, and two Belgard representatives said the Winchester company has one of the best display areas they've seen.

Belgard Sales Manager Erik M. Pedersen and sales representative Eric Blauch were at the Winchester business on a recent bitterly cold day to put the final touches on the oven in preparation for a public demonstration on Thursday.

The actual oven -- made by Chicago Brick Oven -- is an insert around which Pedersen and Blauch built the brick display. To use the oven, a wood fire is built at the arched opening and then pushed toward the back of the oven, Blauch said, while the food is cooked in the front. The oven has a door, and there is a place for wood storage underneath.

"Anything that can be made in an [indoor] oven can be made in here," Blauch said, including pizza, calzones and steak.

The on-site demonstration, planned for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, will include free pizza samples that will be cooked in the oven. Chicago Brick Oven is sending the cooks, and Slaughter said anyone is welcome to stop by.

Pedersen and Blauch used stacking wall blocks and incorporated pavers as accents on the display, but Slaughter said people can customize the ovens to almost any look they want. That goes for the other outdoor displays as well.

"If you've got an imagination, you can pretty much customize it to whatever you want," he said.

The ovens come as a kit, and Slaughter said there are various options -- depending on one's budget and taste. For example, celebrity chef Mario Batali has attached his name to a series of the ovens -- three different models, one of which is mobile (on wheels) with a copper-finish top.

"Which shows you how popular they are getting," Slaughter said.

With three models to choose from, the Batali wood-burning brick ovens are designed to fit every budget and backyard space, according to the Web site batalibrickoven.com. All of Batali's ovens feature classic designs and are made in America, the site says, which ensures faster delivery. They are also low weight and can be modular or mobile, so they're easy to install.

Because there are so many options, Slaughter was hesitant to give a price, but said a basic oven would start at about $1,500. Some people can do it themselves, while others may need to hire a landscape architect, he said.

"There are more and more do-it-yourselfers," Slaughter said. "It's probably about half and half. A lot of this stuff has become easier to do it yourself."

Weather is no problem, he said, as the ovens were designed for the outdoors.

Although Slaughter said the brick ovens aren't likely to be in every backyard, there is interest for them in the area.

"We have had people ask about pizza ovens," he said, "and so it was just a good fit [for us]. We didn't have anything like it."

Frederick Block, Brick & Stone, located at 1040 Martinsburg Pike, is a distributor of masonry and hardscape products for the residential and commercial markets in Winchester and the surrounding counties and eastern West Virginia. The oven demonstration will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, where representatives from Belgard, Chicago Brick Oven and Mario Batali Brick Ovens will be on hand to serve pizza samples. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call 667-1261 or visit www.frederickblock.com. For more information about the ovens, visit www.chicagobrickoven.com or batalibrickoven.com.

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