Mud PiesKevin explains that his oven was copied from an old stove, circa 1500s, that he saw in a friend’s backyard during a visit to his wife’s native French homeland. Unfortunately, the copied pattern is too big and the oven takes a lot of time to heat up and consumes a lot of wood. But the Dickinsons admit they love having friends over, and the oven makes for an incredible evening of feasting outdoors with a large crowd. Marra explains that in Italy, many of his friends have outdoor pizza ovens, and he had to call back home to get construction tips. “We used bricks for the exterior, but you have to use fire brick on the inside; that is mandatory,” explains Marra. “We used 60 bags of cement and a lot of sand.”
Get CookingIf constructing a pizza oven is not your particular calling, there are plenty of outdoor kitchen alternatives to get you fired up. Architect L. Scott Barnard, president of Barnard Architects, is a Georgia native and very familiar with what makes a coastal outdoor kitchen (or “summer kitchen,” as he likes to call them) successful. He says the first step is to have a good understanding of the site. “The kitchen in a modern home is the gathering spot,” he adds. “So the outdoor kitchen is probably going to be very much the same thing. You really aren’t going to build an outdoor kitchen to go out and cook a hamburger because you want a hamburger. You are creating an outdoor kitchen to get outdoors and into the environment.” Barnard also recommends simplicity in design. “You aren’t going to want to put a huge outdoor kitchen out there if you have a moderate size yard. Ask yourself, how much are you going to use it? Think about maintenance. Small but powerful is always better. Simple elegance is so Southern, and it’s good architecture, whether you’re talking about your home or your outdoor kitchen.”
Cover upEven partial cover can make the outdoor kitchen more usable year-round. A permanent cover offers structure for adding ceiling fans and lighting. Ceiling fans are also a great way to shoo those pesky sand gnats and provide relief from humidity.
Build to lastBarnard says stainless steel appliances are absolutely necessary to create an outdoor cooking space that will last. Another key factor is using materials with finishes made to handle our warm and humid climate, as well as the inevitable growth of mold and mildew. He says newer composite materials for flooring and cabinetry are ideal.
Safety first“It’s important for people to understand coding,” Barnard says. If you choose the DIY route, he recommends speaking with a building inspector. “The codes are based on years and years of disasters; they know what happened and how to prevent it. Just a simple trip could save you a lot of money.” Other safety features he recommends are slip-resistant surfaces, handrails, guardrails, anchored seating on decks and good lighting.
Accentuate the positivesFinally, Barnard recommends looking for the unique opportunities and natural features your backyard already offers. “Make the best of what you’ve got. Most of all, be yourself and let your outdoor kitchen and living space represent you.”
Originally Published in the March/April 2013 issue.
Take a peek behind the black curtain of Club One with the one and only Empress of Savannah.
Professional paddling guide Steve Braden gets us into the cockpit and leads us down the trail to the real Georgia.
Photography by CHRISTINE HALL
The Mind of a ChefHave you ever wondered how your favorite chef grocery shops? At the Wilmington Island Farmers’ Market you can tag along with one. Florence M. Slatinsky gets the goods with Chef Mir Ali. Photography by Angela Hopper When I agree to interview Chef Mir Ali of Lili’s Restaurant and Bar at the Wilmington Island Farmers’ Market, I’ve got visions of lamb, tender lettuce and just-picked radishes dancing in my head. But instead of succulent spring foods, the hallmarks of spring weather—thick, yellow pollen; swarming, lusty gnats; intermittent thunderstorms—threaten to dampen our excursion. Fortunately, the clouds part, the bug spray is plentiful, and the chef’s enthusiasm for the fresh harvest is contagious. Word has gotten out that the market is open for the season—and Chef Ali is back for his second year of “Shop with the Chef,” held the last Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. when the farmers’ market is open. A crowd of 20 or so shoppers are gathered, peering from beneath our hoods and swatting at gnats with the chef’s recipe for roasted pork tenderloin and carmelized vegetables. Chef Ali greets us warmly, raising his voice to be heard over the crowing roosters and barking dogs. He explains that he will lead us down the row of vendors assembled and give us tips on how to shop and what to buy. “The more you know, not just about what to put into my recipe, but about all that you see here, the more you can use what’s available and support our local vendors,” he says and then heads off.
Fresh off the FarmBen Deen of Savannah River Farms is up first. In a drawl so thick you could spread it on a slice of fresh bread, he explains that his pork tenderloin comes from “right here,” gesturing toward the middle of his abdomen, and sits up against the baby back ribs. His farm’s tenderloins are small, generally about a pound, unlike the commercial counterparts, which come off much larger hogs who are fatted fast on a feeder diet. When asked about his pigs’ diet, he says with pride, “We’re all Genetically Modified Organism free. In the next few weeks we’ll get our certification, and we’ll be one of about three farms in the country that slaughters on site and is certified GMO free.” Chef Ali nods his head in appreciation and recounts how important it is to think about what we’re eating and how it affects our bodies. Much of what we eat isn’t natural and can adversely affect us, he continues, showing us the silver sinew that runs down all pork tenderloins and should be removed before cooking. A little fat is fine and will add to the flavor, he says, but the sinew is tough and needs trimming.
Feast for the SensesOur recipe doesn’t call for bread, but the chef can’t resist stopping in front of the aromatic loaves arrayed under the Spouses Bakery tent. Unlike just-off-the-farm eggs, which don’t require refrigeration due to their freshness, preservative-free bread should be eaten, refrigerated or frozen within three days. We sample asiago cheese and sourdough, and we shake our heads wondering how a loaf that good could survive three days in a home. We also try samples from Savannah Rum Runners Bakery, including a focaccia that we learn is eggless—a solid choice for vegans. It’s hard to stay focused on our recipe. The crowd has grown as the weather has improved. Dogs and people are stopping to chat, including a parti poodle, aptly named for his brindle coat. He barks excitedly at a basset hound waiting expectantly under a sample tray. Chef presses on toward the vegetables. We pass natural body products, locally sourced honey (much deeper in color than the grocery-store version because it hasn’t been heated and filtered), handmade pasta and savory homemade dips. I get sidetracked by the olive tapenade and have to jog to catch up with the group. The bounty of produce gets Chef Ali’s creative juices flowing. He starts throwing out ideas as he shows us each pick: basil with pine nuts and olive oil for fresh pesto, chopped radishes to perk up a salad, roasted beets or squash with some local honey and salt. His recipe calls for rainbow carrots and sweet potatoes, but as long as you chop them to a uniform size you can use any vegetables you like, he explains. Be flexible, he instructs us—have fun! I’m not sure I’ve ever had this much fun grocery shopping. It made making the dish all the more delicious.
Roast Pork Tenderloin with Caramelized VegetablesServes 4 to 6 2 to 3 Savannah River Farms pork tenderloins
- Coarsely ground salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- cup olive oil, divided
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 4 rainbow carrots, peeled*
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled*
- 1 large sweet onion, peeled*
- 1 bell pepper, rinsed*
- 6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- Assorted fresh herbs, chopped