Kendall Colleges School of Culinary Arts Debuts Outdoor Oven

According to a press release, A new piece of equipment is getting a rise out of faculty and students at Kendall College, but it’s not in one of the state-of-the-art kitchens. It’s in the courtyard. 

Since the dawn of baking leavened bread in an enclosed structure, a centralized oven served villagers who lived nearby. “Historically and throughout the world, many town and village squares boasted an oven that everyone used to bake their home-prepared bread dough,” says Melina Kelson-Podolsky, a master baker and instructor in Kendall’s School of Culinary Arts. “The oven served as a gathering site for the community.” 

Kendall’s wood-fired bread oven is expected to draw welcome interest from the surrounding community on Chicago’s Goose Island, but that’s not the oven’s primary purpose. 

“It’s used across the curriculum—everything from drying herbs to roasting meats to baking pastry and breads,” says Kelson-Podolsky. Guests of Kendall’s highly rated Dining Room also benefit; the outdoor oven is often employed to cook pizza specials on the lunch menu.  

Construction of the oven, which began last summer, was an exacting process that encompassed several months and capitalized on the talents of local artisans.

The “guts” of the oven were completed by a team of five students, Kelson-Podolsky and another baker with oven-building experience. The oven has 4 inches of firebrick, 4 inches of vermiculite insulation and 4 inches of refractory cement making up the hearth and arches. “The more cladding [the bonding of metals or alloys] an oven has, the longer it takes to fire to temperature, but the longer it holds heat,” Kelson-Podolsky says. “We saw that when we stopped firing on a Friday and returned to school the following Monday, it was still above 180 degrees. We embedded six thermocouples in different places in the oven so that we always have an accurate temperature reading.” 

Construction of the oven was funded by Bays English Muffin Corporation, a venerable Chicago-based company that opened its first bakery in Chicago’s Loop in 1933. George A. Bay, company president and grandson of the founder who popularized English muffins in the United States, serves on Kendall College’s Culinary Advisory Board. 

According to Kelson-Podolsky, the outdoor oven will expand students’ learning. “Baking bread in an oven like this is a completely different skill set than baking in a regular bread oven,” she says. “I tried out the oven as soon as the chimney was built, and was able to use it the day we taught flatbreads in my artisan-breads class.” 

Christopher Koetke, CEC, CCE, Kendall College’s dean of culinary arts, says that foods baked and cooked in a wood-fired oven take on a pleasing organoleptic quality that is often difficult to achieve in a conventional oven. “Breads and meats from an outdoor, wood-fired oven promote the interaction between the mouth and nose in a way that recalls rustic cooking of yesteryear,” he says. “The sensory experience is enticingly nostalgic, and leaves us hungry for more.” Koetke adds that periodic tasting events for the local community and greater Chicago area will expose more people to the tantalizing flavors and aromas of foods cooked in the new oven. 

About Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts

Founded in 1985, the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College is among the premier culinary-training programs in the United States, offering associate and bachelor’s degrees and certificates in culinary arts as well as associate degrees and certificates in baking and pastry. The school occupies a stunning “Riverworks” campus near downtown Chicago. The American Culinary Federation has accredited the Culinary Arts Associate and Baking & Pastry Associate programs since 1988. Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2009, Kendall College also operates Schools of Hospitality Management, Business and Education. Since 1962, it has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (www.ncahlc.org, 800.621.7440). Kendall College is a member of the Laureate International Universities network. For more information, visit www.kendall.edu