It's all about tending the fire.
"It's difficult, it's the hardest part about the whole thing. Maintaining your oven and keeping it balanced. It's very engaging. There's a primal element to it and it's very exciting," is what Stiv Reisdorph tells me when I ask him what he likes most about making pizza. Reisdorph is the owner of Woodfire Pies and I'm catching up with him at the end of four+ hours of pizza making at the Bend Farmers Market. Reisdorph and his business partner/fiancée Rae Fields are taking a quick break before they pack up and load out of the market.
In case you haven't been to the downtown weekday market this season or caught Woodfire Pies at an event around the area, let me tell you a little about this sweet, spirited couple and their grassroots pizza making/catering business.
Reisdorph, born Steven Reisdorph, acquired the nickname Stiv when he was a kid. The nickname stuck; he refers to himself as Stiv to this day and explains that "all my friends call me Stiv." Of course, Fields didn't know that when she first met him and had serious doubts about dating a guy that didn't know how to spell his own name! Happily, after a first date that she describes as "hot garbage," Fields and Reisdorph hit it off and it wasn't long before she was changing her life around to support his pizza-making ways.
Come to find out her new boyfriend loves making pizza. After starting his food career working in national parks, including Yellowstone and Death Valley, Reisdorph made his way to the very foodie city of Charleston, South Carolina. It was there he was thrown into the pizza "fire."
Literally, with no prior pizza making experience, after a kitchen walkout, he was chosen as the next one in line to make the pizzas at Indaco Italian Food & Wine.
"I had to learn really fast. I got to make the dough, use the dough – I was part of the entire process, working from prep in the morning to service at night," he recalls. The fast pace and technicality suited him and his very active mind. "I make spinning out a good dough look easy but I've had a lot of failures getting here," he grins.
"Getting here" also includes getting to Bend. A few years ago Reisdorph moved back out to the PNW with plans to open a pizzeria with a friend in Washington. Things shifted and being the energetic, flexible fellow that he is, he decided to strike out on his own. He asked himself, "Where was the last place I had fun?" and he realized the answer was Bend. He had visited during his National Park days.
Being a chef and working in food always means long hours and very little free time, but he reasoned that living in Bend put him close enough to the outdoors that he could pack fun and recreational outings into his everyday existence and have a better quality of life. It wasn't long thereafter that he met Fields and with her encouragement and support he made the very big move of getting his own pizza oven. And it's impressive.
Imported from Modena, Italy, the Woodfire Pies oven is a mobile, traditional wood-fired oven complete with a wood storage unit underneath. It's fascinating to watch Reisdorph standing in front of it, spinning pizzas into and out of the fire. But this is just a flashy finish to a long process. Pizza making starts back in the kitchen with the dough.
"It wants to be alive and it has its own set of feelings," Reisdorph muses about dough. "You have to be mindful and feel it. You have to listen to your food." That statement was enough to make me want to eat whatever he was cooking. I opted for the Margherita pie, one of Woodfire's specialties. The simplicity of it reminded me of the pizzas I recently ate in Tuscany. Fresh, tomatoey sauce, creamy mozzarella, basil. When I mention this, Fields tells me about a return customer at the market that day who told her, "I can't eat pizza outside of Italy. But I can eat yours; it's the closest I can find."
"Less is more when it comes to sauce," Reisdorph emphasizes, "and you should never cook your sauce." He uses San Marzano style tomatoes blended with Thai basil for his. A little bit of it smeared over the slightly charred, flavorful wood-fired dough topped with just the right amount of cheese is perfection. Of course he offers other flavors and specialty pies with a focus on high- quality ingredients and unique flavor combinations. There's a Potato & Leek pie with caramelized onion and leek sofrito and a Thai Pork pizza with scallion, chili crisp and red sauce, for example.
Along with the weekly farmers market outing, Woodfire Pies will be doing pop-ups at Rancher Butcher Chef every Saturday in August. They'll also be at Three Creeks Brewing during the Sisters Fresh Hop event. Woodfire Pies is also available for private events. Along with their pizza, there's paella and Spanish tapas options for a crowd, charcuterie and other custom menus available.
While a busy summer lies ahead, the couple is planning a fall wedding and working on making their dream of a brick and mortar family-friendly restaurant come to life. For Reisdorph and Fields it's all about helping create memories with good food.