At DUMBO House in New York, more than half the menu is cooked over wood and charcoal. We look at why fire is currently the hottest trend in food
“Cooking over fire is the most pure and ancient way of cooking, since Man started building bonfires,” says Eyal Jagermann, who pioneered the trend for grill cooking at The Barbary, TimeOut London’s best restaurant of 2017.
Ancient it may be, but smoking, grilling and roasting over fire is totally hot right now. In London critics rave about The Barbary and Brat – the new restaurant by Tomos Parry, who slow-cooks his ingredients over fire. In LA, chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield use an elaborate South American style smoking and grilling setup at Odys + Penelope. And at Marta, in the Redbury New York, there is no other way to cook.
So it was perfect timing when DUMBO House chose a New American Wood Fire theme for its food offering. More than half the dishes are made on the custom open-fire roti grill, with the flavourful fuels – cherry wood, apple wood and silver birch wood, charcoal embers – listed at the top of the menu.
For the recent Father’s Day feast, a 100lb beef steamship joint was smoked for 16 hours and roasted for 12 hours using its 14ft-long fire pit. Lamb is cooked asado-style, with everything from chickens to cabbages getting the rotisserie treatment. Even desserts don’t escape the versatile robata setup, with baskets, swords, skewers and hooks: “We smoke/roast the pineapples on hooks over the grill and serve them with coconut sorbet and finger limes,” says Andrea Cavaliere, executive chef, North America. “We also use them in salads for our garden table and weekend feasts.”
Gaven Davis, executive head chef at Shoreditch House, approves. “Cooking over wood and charcoal is something that comes very naturally for me,” he says. “In South Africa we call it ‘braaing’ and it is a huge part of our culture. It is not only a healthy way to cook but creates a very unique flavour.”
Gaven and his fellow Shoreditch head chef Gilbert Holmes chose to cook seafood over fire for Off the Hook, their pop-up restaurant on the House’s rooftop last year. Asked for his favourite things to grill, he narrows it down to: “Almost everything. Ranging from small things like chunks of garlic oil bread done on the grill to serve as rustic salad croutons, to the larger things like whole stuffed sea bass and flattened, deboned lamb shoulder.”
Later this year, Eyal will be running Cookhouse training sessions with UK chefs who would like to learn more. But you don’t have to be an expert, he emphasises. “For me it’s a very easy, straightforward way of cooking – you follow certain steps and get a great result.”