Gary Hutton peers into the red hot interior of his wood-fired oven. “It gets up to 600 Fahrenheit in there and I can have a pizza ready in 90 seconds,” he says, sliding a Parma ham, parmesan and rocket special in on a peel.
Earlier that day Gary had parked the mobile pizza oven outside the former chemist’s shop which is now the eclectic Café #9 on Nether Edge Road, Sheffield, and stoked up.
He was ready for business from noon for lunches, then afternoon nibbles when things went a bit quiet until tea (“I did 45 pizzas in 35 minutes”) then on into the lazy evening before winding down at 9pm.
Not surprisingly, this pavement cooking brings an interested knot of passers-by, alerted by the smoke and the smells which waft enticingly up to the street corner.
As often as not they turn into customers.
The men are interested in the techicalities and Gary, keeping cool under a straw hat, can rattle them off.
The oven is heated by a mixture of wood and blocks of compressed sawdust, like those you can buy for your backyard chiminea.
The oven is made of reinforced concrete, weighs 550 kilos and can cook two pizzas a minute.
On an average Wednesday in Nether Edge he can sell around 120 but he did 700 in three days at the Eroica in Bakewell.
People can either sit inside or outside the café, where refreshments are available, or Gary will pop their pizza into a box to take home.
It’s a gloriously warm and sunny summer’s evening so we find a table outside and bring a bottle of wine.
A word of warning, Café #9 charges Sheffield’s highest corkage fee at £5 so you might find it cheaper to buy soft drinks there.
Gary founded the Nether Edge Pizza Company earlier this year after losing his job in IT. He was selling pumpkin seed oil at fairs and farmers markets and noticed other mobile pizza ovens in operation and thought he’d like a slice of the action.
Not that he’s ever worked in a pizza restaurant.
“I love cooking, I love meeting people and I love making fires,” he beams as he produces our pizzas: the special at £7 and a Margherita for £5, added olives an extra 50p.
They have taken slightly longer than 90 seconds but that’s because the oven has cooled down a little during a lull in trade.
It’s probably the atmosphere, the sun and the wine but these pizzas taste glorious.
They are thin and crisp, billowing up where pockets of air have expanded, and the toppings are spot on, particularly the special.
Purists may point out that this is not completely artisan as Gary uses dough balls, being rolled into pleasingly rustic ten inch discs through a machine by his pal, catering consultant Melvin Jarman, previously boss of the Fusion Café in Arundel Street in the city centre.
So no home made dough? “I’m working on that,” says Gary, slipping a pizza into a box. Or flipping pizzas? “I’m working on that as well!”
The pumpkin seed oil is on the tables as an alternative to olive and as a subtle plug for his other business. I’m impressed by its rich nutty taste, as if it includes a dash of balsamic.
Gary, aged 43, who lives just around the corner so Café #9 is his ‘local,’ bought the reinforced concrete oven off the peg and had it welded to a metal frame for ease of transport.
He’s at Cafe #9, rain or shine, every Wednesday, and is aiming to be outside other city cafes on other days of the week.
He’s also available for weddings and private parties.
There were a few scorched pizzas as he tried his technique out on friends and family until he got the hang of things with advice from Melvin.
“We do a different special every month.
“The last one was line-caught crab and shredded leek on a mayonnaise and crème fraiche base. It went very well,” Gary says.
At one point he runs out of cheese so nips home for more supplies. By 7.45pm the Parma ham has been exhausted but customers are still coming.
It all feels cool and laid-back, which is precisely the description of the music coming from Café #9.
I go back inside and order two Americanos for £2 each.
I wonder whether pizzas are a summer thing but Gary intends it to be an all year round enterprise. “Winters aren’t so bad these days and I’m getting a portable awning,” he says.
He’s planning trial days at other local cafes and is busy experimenting with other fancy pizza toppings. Watch out for woodpigeon with wild mushrooms.
If you can’t get to Nether Edge catch him near the Bradfield Brewery for the Tour de France this weekend.
Our pizzas cost £12, olives 50p, coffees £4 and corkage £5, bringing the bill to £21.50.
Pizzas every Wednesday, 12-9pm at Café #9, Nether Edge Road. Sheffield S7 1RU. Tel: 07973 560 089. Web: www.netheredgepizza.co
Star rating 5