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Cooking with Fire in Public Parks


Custodians:

Christie Pits Park bake oven

Community contact: joderoberts@gmail.com

2017

David Suzuki Foundation's pizza fundraiser days this year: June 1, July 6, August 10, September 7 (that one was postponed to Sept.27 because of weather).

The ovens no longer have metal barriers in front. The smaller oven is not used at all, except to store baking equipment. Too bad -- it works well. Maybe it could be moved to another park that would use it.

Facebook announcement for Sept.7, 2017: Pizza in the Park with Pizzeria Libretto, Banjara & Beau's Brewery

Join us for the David Suzuki Foundation's final park pizza night of the year at the wood-burning oven at Christie Pits Park on Thursday, September 7 from 6 to 8 pm. Enjoy fresh Neapolitan pizza from the fine folks at Pizzeria Libretto, organic craft beer from Beau's All Natural Brewing Co., and delicious Indian veggies and rice from Banjara Indian Cuisine. This month, Angie's Juicery will joining the fun, providing cold-pressed juice and Brass Slam will be playing live music.

This year's pizza nights are once again generously sponsored by our favourite neighbourhood realtor, Alex Beauregard-Freeman Real Estate Ltd. and the nice folks at Spirit of Math. All proceeds support local greening projects through David Suzuki Foundation's The Butterflyway Project.

Please note: Only three pizzas can be cooked in the Christie Pits wood oven at once. So pizza wait time can range from 10 minutes to one hour. Good food takes time, we thank you in advance for your patience. And please note you can now wait for your slice while sipping delicious beer (amazing, right?).

2016

August 2016: equal opportunity risk management

It appears that city staff regard both ovens, the old and the new, as dangerous. Why else have barrier fences around them even when there's no fire inside? (And the ovens are not hot on the outside when there's a fire inside, anyway.)


original oven, barrier fence without any fire

new oven, barrier fence also without any fire
 
July 13, 2016: cost of new Christie oven

The Freedom of Information response for the cost of the new Christie oven is as follows:

Bake Oven (including metal roof, lockable steel doors and attached prep tables): $114,000

Water Station, including plumbing: $19,800

Concrete Paving Plaza in front of Bake Oven: $20,000

Long "Harvest Table" in front of oven: $8,000

Total new oven cost: $161,800

 
July 10, 2016

original oven has fence around it

It was outdoor movie night so the Friends of Christie Pits lit both ovens and made pizza. They keep the oven doors closed while they burn the first wood to get the heat up. That's possible because both ovens have their door forward of their chimney, so the chimney can keep drawing. Not common in most pizza ovens, though, which are open at the front while the fire is burning.

The original oven was surrounded by temporary fencing; the newer one had some prep tables but there was more space and no fence in front. The Friends say that the fence is necessary because the oven door on the original oven gets hot and kids can burn their hands on it. The doors on the new oven were put on by the city -- the oven didn't come with them -- but they don't get hot.

The visual impression is that the community-built oven is dangerous but the prefab one imported from France is not. Is the message that cooking with fire needs specialized equipment built in distant factories?


people waiting for pizza, 6.20 pm

lots of volunteers to help





big blackboard, "pizza! $5"

 

June 25, 2016

new long table

A new addition to the oven seating area is a long wooden table -- nice. There's no seating so perhaps it's supposed to be a prep table. There are also numerous picnic tables beside the oven and nearby. So they're all ready to get started -- but with what?

 
June 10, 2016

The first pizza day with both ovens going. From their Facebook posting:

Proceeds go towards green projects through the David Suzuki Foundation's Homegrown National Park Project. This year's pizza nights are once again generously sponsored by our favourite neighbourhood realtor, Alex Beauregard-Freeman Real Estate Ltd.

Warning: We usually sell out quickly. Starts at 6pm. See you there!

Next pizza dates: July 22, August 12


pizza in original oven

fire in new oven

The pizza cooks said that the new oven burns hotter, partly because of its round shape, adding better convection. But both ovens were in use, to increase the speed at which the pizzas could be made.


prep around new oven

table setup

long lineup
 

Jode Roberts by the tickets table

Jode Roberts, the organizer of the event for the Suzuki Foundation, said that by the time the dough ran out, 300 $5 tickets had been sold. Even so, people were turned away. It took two hours to make the 300 pizzas. Jode said that no amateurs could have made that many pizzas so fast. He said that Pizza Libretto does this for only the cost of materials, even though they send six staff.

There were two other food stands, one for gelato, one for smoothies (which were being given out free). Jode said that in future they would add some other food vendors, to take the pressure off the pizza line.


Echo Gelato

healthy smoothies
 


Earlier posts

June 6, 2016

The roof is on and there are two table frames, still without tops, on either side. A second tap has been installed beside the French oven, a bit higher than the first one. The original oven appears to have had part of the outside of its chimney damaged, presumably when it was picked up by the heavy machinery. Both ovens are still surrounded by a locked construction fence. The new playground, however, has had its fence removed. At 11.30 on a sunny day, all the parents, nannies and their little charges were sitting in the shade or swinging on the old swings. The new part of the playground was empty.

Rumour has it that the new oven was so expensive that there was no money left to build the performance stage that everyone expected, where the picnic shelter is now.


new roof is on, protruding forward with two pillars

details -- $3200 lockable steel doors, outrider metal tables
May 9 2016

The next phase of building seems to be underway. The new playground surfacing is partway in. The oven still has the tarp instead of the roof. The new asphalt path down to the ovens area is blocked by a fence with a sign on it. The sign says this part of the work involves "an upgraded basketball courts [sic], ping pong tables seating, and pathway." It sound like that part of the work will last all summer.


path to ovens is blocked off...

...because the basketball court is being dug up
 
May 3 2016

May 7: ready to put the roof on

The oven is ready for the roof to go on, but is just covered by a tarp at the moment. For an idea of prices for this brand of French-manufactured oven, a link to a $10,000 backyard model by the same company is here. The report (ad) is on Epicurious, and there are a few comments as well. The Le Panyol company website is here. They say that the white clay of the region in France is best for organic baking worldwide, so they have dealers in Maine, Australia, New Zealand....

The gates around the playground construction area, which includes the oven at one side, were open. So I got a frontal photo of the oven. But then a park staffer got out of his parked truck, asked me where my hard hat was, and told me I was not allowed to be inside the gates without one. I said I would come out, and did, but he took a photo of me on his phone. I said, "are you going to report me?" and he said that I had reported "us" (?) for lots of things. The implication, I guess, is turnabout is fair play. Then he joined his buddy back inside his truck and rolled up the window in case I might try to talk to him. But I was already back on my bike, said "I can see that you're busy" and headed off.

Childish fun and games. Really.

April 28, 2016

the new skyscraper oven (original oven to the right)

the bricklayer has to stand high up on a platform

oven opening

The bricklayers were there today, with their cement mixer and their platform to lay course after course of stone. The new oven will dwarf the original oven. The bricklayers themselves seemed surprised at how high the plans required them to go.

The oven opening -- i.e. the working part, not the massive outward shell -- looks tiny, though -- maybe not even big enough to use a medium-size peel.

Behind the oven there were big trucks bringing supplies for the rebuilt playground -- with a new, high climbing tipi and a new merry-go-round. The optics are: cost is no problem, anywhere. And new is better than old.

Really?

 
April 21, 2016

putting the prefab pieces together

detail of new French prefab oven

The prefab part is being installed. The worker says it's from France. He says he doesn't normally work with ovens but this is simple. Maybe a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, rather than a craft.

He said that he was told that they're putting in a new oven because the old one caught fire. So this rumour is still being fostered by capital budgets staff. In fact, the oven roof was set on fire at the end of a pretty chaotic ethnic festival in the park, which did not involve the oven at all. But some vandal set the roof on fire afterwards in the dark. The fire was quickly put out (the oven is made of concrete, bricks and mortar -- there's nothing that can catch fire).

 
April 18 2016

A mid-sized shipping container has been placed in the middle of the new oven area.


 
April 15, 2016

There is a lot of new equipment on the still-fenced oven site. Some of it is covered with tarps, some is visible, including the beginnings of decorative brick wall around the new oven (not yet installed). Off to one side of the oven is a low water tap with a large drainage screen.


April 15: fence was open

April 15: low water tap


 

2015

Dec.14, 2015

The original oven, removed in October, has been put back near its original location, and the foundation is there for a second oven. What will happen now that the park will have two ovens? Only time will tell. (:/announce:)


October 2015: oven moved off its location and onto the grass

Dec.14: oven moved back beside new oven foundation
 

How this oven was built


Friday Night supper at Christie Pits, 2008

Rec staff Luis, Marcel, Kumar, October 2000

This wood-fired bake oven was built in 2000. Supplies were provided by the Maytree Foundation and Dufferin Grove Park. Additional labour was provided by city recreation staff, with community support (lunches, blueprints) from Jutta Mason, and staff support from Tino Decastro. Luis Andrade was the lead on construction. Once the working parts had been completed, Nigel Dean finished the chimney and the shingles.

Original oven construction step-by-step picture gallery


Oven use

2015

Nov.1, 2015

Something strange has happened to the oven -- in October 2015 it was picked up from its place and plunked down beside the basketball court. When we heard it might be destroyed, we asked what was happening, and why. The answers we got are below, and on the special correspondence page.

The bake oven was moved over about 50 feet onto the grass. It looks okay on the outside -- did the move crack the hearth or the dome on the inside?

The city plans to replace this oven with one of the small prefab ovens it buys for parks. Those kinds of ovens don't work well for community events because there is so little room on the hearth, and so people wait in lineups instead of making food together.


oven sitting on the grass

not much damage showing on the outside

Nov.21

no sign of fallen rubble -- only old wood ash

sign about renovation
 
Nov.11, 2015

We asked Christie oven user Jode Roberts what was going on, and he wrote back: "There were two public consultation meetings about the capital work to be done in the pits, estimated at about $250k. These were probably attended by a couple dozen peeps max. The resulting concept plan....suggested creating more of a 'community hub' around the oven area. This included a permanent covered harvest table, a tap and electrical nearby the oven, new benches and a couple new playground structures on the west side of the playground that would tie that entire area closer together.

What actually happened?

...A construction company was hired and the city assigned staff to manage the construction. Despite [the David Suzuki Foundation] having been issued a permit for the Park Crawl event (thousands of people, dozens of vendors) and a community pizza night [scheduled] using the oven the week following, the councillor and I were informed the week prior to the event that the entire area of the park would be closed immediately for construction, including the oven and playground. The manager ultimately agreed to push work back a week to accommodate the park crawl and that the existing oven would be moved to its new location so we could host our community pizza night. It got moved, but too late so we had to cancel our community pizza night....


Christie reno -- not final; click image for larger image

At the same time....I realized they were not intending to complete various elements presented to the community in the 'final' concept plan. This new plan did not include the covered harvest table, playground structures and other elements. When pressed on why these had been taken out of the plan, I was told there wasn't enough money and they would be done in later phases with unknown sources of funding. When repeatedly asked why we wouldn't simply re-use the existing oven and use that money for new elements like the covered table (note there is only one small covered structure in the entire park currently), it was asserted that the oven built in 2000 was "not to code". I've still not been informed of what the code actually is, and was left with the impression that I should be grateful because a new oven was something that "the community" asked for. This is strange, given I am the only person using the oven...

Nov.11, 2015, from Alex Chernov, master oven builder:

Building code does not cover any outdoor ovens.

We use fireplace section of the code for indoor ovens, but outdoor ovens should not be subject to the code as long as they are more than 10ft from any building.

From Councillor Mike Layton, Nov.16 2015

"The original oven from 2000 unfortunately was destroyed in a fire (at least this is my understanding) and rebuilt. The oven to be installed was done in consultation with active users of the bake oven and built to City specifications."

But in fact the oven was not "destroyed in a fire" -- it had some roof damage from vandals, which was repaired and then the oven continued to be used for the 6 years following (scroll down to the 2009 entry). And there is no evidence that there was any "consultation with active users" by the city.

Later on November 16, there was different news, from Councillor Layton's executive assistant:

"The original plan was to remove the oven and possibly relocate it to another park, but this plan has since changed.

The oven will remain in the park alongside the newer oven."

This was a better plot twist. As a follow-up, we asked Councillor Layton's office to promote a meeting between whoever on city staff was making public oven "specifications" -- since it seemed to us that it was high time that person or persons actually talked to people who bake in or build public ovens.

Nov.19, 2015, email from Councillor Layton's assistant:

I am just awaiting word from staff on who you should speak with about oven standards. I have been promised the information by tonight or tomorrow morning. Will have more for you then.

It's becoming clear that the game here is only professionally-built ovens will do -- community-built ovens don't meet the standard. Only no one has produced a "city outdoor oven standard" or "city oven specifications" document for us yet. Two people are named as the relevant staff to contact: Ed Fearon, called a Standards and Development Officer, and Tara Coley, a city landscape architect. We'll contact them and see whether they are the ones who write the standards that rank ovens like the little Regent Park prefab above larger, more solidly built ovens like this one at Christie Pits.

 

Here is the full Christie Pits Park oven correspondence.


 
Facebook post about the summer pizza days at Christie Pits:

For Sept.11, 2015:

Join us at the wood-burning oven at Christie Pits Park.

Five bucks gets you two slices of pizza, served by a Homegrown Park Ranger and cooked up by Chef Rocco and team Pizzeria Libretto and grilled fresh corn. Proceeds go towards green projects through the Homegrown National Park Project.

If you're still hungry, check out the fresh empanadas made by Cookie Martinez and all natural freezies from Jon's Pops.

This year's pizza nights will be sponsored by Alex Beauregard-Freeman Real Estate Ltd., with veggies from Fresh City Farms. And, naturally, there will be music.

Warning: We usually sell out quick. Starts at 6pm. See you there!

 

2014:

Between June and October the oven was used by friends of Christie Pits about 12 times. Jode Roberts was the animator, getting the oven back into use after a period when not much baking was done there. In spring 2014, Jode arranged for two professional bakers, Rocco from Pizzeria Libretto and Patty from The Woodlot, to give a workshop for interested park friends. These experienced bakers showed participants how to use the oven to make pizza. In order to completely clean the ash from the hearth, Rocco used a fat round of pizza dough to drag around and then discard!


Rocco

using dough to clean the oven hearth

new sign on oven

Permits were problematic even though Jode was able to bring in outside insurance. The Permits office insisted that they needed 6 weeks to process permit applications despite the straightforward paperwork which required no extra staff involvement. The fee was low -- $14 per permit -- but a rain cancellation carried a fee of $25 (more than the permit!) and was also supposed to be done 3 weeks in advance. So there is some slippage where permits are concerned. However the park supervisor was supportive and the Friday oven nights were very successful, sometimes with over 100 people attending.

The oven has a hearth that can only hold three pizzas at a time, so to make the waiting less hungry, corn was also roasted on a barbecue beside the oven. At the Christie-Ossington folk festival, the oven bakers made baked apples and roasted corn inside the oven. At the Suzuki Foundation's annual Homegrown National Park crawl, Pizza Libretto brought in their staff to handle the volume of pizzas.

The friends of the park are thinking about using the pizza oven during toboggan season this winter as well (see below for the 2010 experiment).

 

2013:

The friends of Christie Pits did 5 pizza nights without Recreation staff involvement.

 

2012:

This oven was used only three times in 2012. The recreation supervisor for Christie Pits assigns staff to do the burn but she does not assign staff to help with any of the food preparation or cooking. This is different than the practice at the four other city park ovens, all of which are mainly operated by city staff: Alexandra Park's oven (used by the staff of Scadding Court Community Centre), Dufferin Grove's two ovens, Edithvale oven, and Riverdale oven. Monica Gupta, of the Friends of Christie Pits, says that volunteers can't be expected to operate the oven for free anymore: too much work. Here are 2010 photos of Friday evening pizza making, on the Friends of Christie Pits website. But by 2012 the Christie Pits oven stayed unused most of the time.

2011

Guest Baker Jan 16, 2011

Report by guest baker Yo Utano.

Christie Pits Oven tryout at Friends of Christie Pits Park Skating Party

It was a beautiful day. Cold, but crispy and bright.

The oven looks quite striking in the middle of the pit, but only if you walk down here regularly, or have been to the Friday Pizza Night organized by Friends of Christie Pits Park (FCPP) during the summer.

On a cold Sunday morning in the wintertime, it is rather quiet. To make it more visible, we set up a tent and a table by the oven. The fire was lit just past 8 a.m., and we contemplated the day while shoveling the snow.

We had decided not to fire the oven to preheat the day before, since we only planned to make focaccia that was baked with the fire in the back.

I was a little worried about getting it hot on time. Added to variables such as outside temperature and type of wood, an oven’s personality is a big factor when planning a day with a deadline. I had no idea how fast this oven would heat up, especially when it hadn’t been used for a long time.

But when you worry, it always turns out better. The fire went so well, and the oven was ready right on time around noon. It is partly because the wood was dry (and two-year old Christmas tree kindling) and it was a dry day, but I’d say this oven is very friendly.


Focaccia dough rising in the rinkhouse

By then, focaccia dough was warming up by the wood stove in the rink house. We started rolling out the dough. Here was the day’s menu:

Savory focaccia (potato dough): Caramelized onion & garlic with tomatoes or Olive tapenade with tomatoes

Sweet focaccia (butter dough): Applesauce and cinnamon or Fresh grape and sugar

Councillor Mike Layton sent boxes of cookies along with Tim Horton’s hot chocolate, and as Friends of Christie Pits Park set up the room, people began to gather. Outside also, tobogganing hills were filling up with families. Like I said in the beginning, the oven is quite isolated during the winter.


Toboganners at the top of the hill

We were hoping tobogganing families might be drawn to the fire and food, but it was a bit too far for them to smell the food. I ended up running up the hill with steaming pieces of focaccia to force people to taste it (they liked it). It is also far from the rink house, so no skating families came out to see the oven (but they liked the food too). But people were curious, and as everywhere else, appreciative about the idea of an outdoor bake oven. Isn’t it nice to say “my neighbourhood park has a communal oven”? And it’s even better if you can say “and I eat the food cooked in it all the time”.


More Pictures from Christie

entrance into the food prep area by the Christie bake oven

baking tools in shopping cart

mice were there in the winter

mice were on the counter too

left-over juice boxes from the summer program

tent set up by bake oven

Yo prepping pizzas before the skating party began

some ready pizzas

so many cookies too!

sweet pizza with grape topping

Yo offering grape pizzas

unusual but tasty
 

2010

In 2009, a new recreation supervisor, Kim Brown, was assigned to that area. By 2010 she had stopped assigning staff to help with the community pizza program. The Friends of Christie Pits ran it without city help. Then they heard that they would have to pay for an oven permit, and insurance, and also to pay staff if they wanted help with the program. Star columnist Catherine Porter wrote this column about it, inviting readers to contact Parks Committee member Janet Davis.

City Council backed off the extra fees and released a much cheaper fee schedule with its new policy in 2011. However the City never resumed supporting the bake oven programs with staff.
 

2009

In early summer of 2009, the night after a rather intense music/food/dancing event in the area west of the oven, someone set fire to the roof of the bake oven. The park supervisor first said that the oven had burned down, but in fact there was only some roof damage, which the city eventually repaired.

 

2000 - 2008

Friday Night pizza, Oct.10 2008




The Friday pizza nights were at first run as a collaboration between the Friends of Christie Pits and recreation staff. This followed the pattern of Dufferin Grove Park, where kids and adults could make their own pizzas several times a week, using dough and materials set out by staff. Staff made the fires and did the actual cooking of the pizzas. Participants paid a small donation to cover the cost of materials.

 
Incubator oven 2007

Ayal Dinner, whose family has a bakery in Edmonton, spent one season baking middle eastern flatbreads for the Trinity-Bellwoods Farmers' Market. For this he was able to use the Christie oven, and at the same time he trained some of the city staff, as well as some friends and some park volunteers, in baking in a wood-fired oven.


brushing on the oil

teaching staff

baking the best flatbreads

a nearby prep shed would eliminate the shopping carts!
 

staff using Christie Pits oven, 2003

Building the first Christie Pits oven

Excerpt from "Cooking with fire in public parks" (Jutta Mason):

The cooking fire booklet was written in 2001. A year later, a retired teacher named Elizabeth Harris, well- known in her neighbourhood, got a bake-oven built across town at Riverdale Farm, a demonstration farm run by the Parks Department. Elizabeth had been involved with the farm for years, and the oven project had been on her mind for a while.

Around the same time, some leftover building supplies and pizza day money from Dufferin Grove became available to help build another bake oven at Christie Pits Park. Riverdale Farm’s oven was a high- profile project. Christie Pits was not.

Elizabeth and her friends had raised enough funds for the Riverdale oven to employ Nigel Dean, our first oven-builder/contractor at Dufferin Grove. He made them a state-of- the-art oven, right beside the park’s historic farmhouse, backing on the white picket fence that separates the farmhouse from the street. The oven was built of mellow old bricks. It had a cedar-shake roof, copper trim, and a beautiful reclaimed ironwork oven door that Elizabeth had been saving for years. The baking was meant to complement the Riverdale Farmers’ market (the first farmers’ market in a city park, also started by Elizabeth).

In contrast to the Riverdale project, the people who built the Christie Pits oven were amateurs – a handful of part-time recreation staff with some limited home-improvement experience, including laying bricks and framing a roof. I was the project’s errand girl and lunch truck. Construction took place during a cool, foggy week in October. The park was mostly empty except for some dog walkers. Even they were invisible when the fog was thick. We used the “Bread Builders” book that Alan Scott had brought along when he was working on the smaller Dufferin Grove oven with us in 2000. The builders went step-by-step while I read aloud from the book as needed.

The recreation supervisor for that area, Tino DeCastro, came by Christie Pits from time to time, bringing supplies – more plywood from the City stores, or boxes of nails. A couple of times he brought along the contractor brother-in-law of one of his staff, to help with the tricky bits like building the chimney. What Tino didn’t bring was compliance inspectors or policy checkers. And so the Christie Pits oven was built by amateurs in a week or so. It had plain board siding instead of a brick face, and a makeshift plywood door, with a small padlock to keep people from burning unscheduled fires. The following spring, Tino began assigning some of his staff to bake pizza with the kids in the park’s after-school program. By summertime, pizza-making in the old style had become a regular treat for the park’s day camps, and the oven was used two or three times a week. Both ovens -- Riverdale and Christie Pits -- work equally well.

Original oven construction step-by-step picture gallery

 

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