LET’S TALK TO FREEMAN MOSER III ABOUT . . .
Describe the tandoori oven
you and a friend built in a
cabin by a lake?
It is a really beautiful oven made out of
common bricks and cement. We started
with a 5-foot-square base of bricks, which
we carefully leveled. Then we laid out a
circle of 10 bricks in the center, and lightly
cemented it to the base. On top of the first
row, we applied a layer of bricks, again
lightly cementing it together. We repeated
the layering, adding half a block with each
level, causing the shape to taper out like a
wooden barrel. At 13½ bricks, we reduced
the number of bricks in the same pattern
until we got back to 10. We applied thin
layers of cement on both the interior and
exterior of the oven until we had a smooth
taper. This was done over a period of two
weeks. We used a total of 17 bags of cement
( 50 lbs. each, all mixed by hand) until we
had the shape we needed. Once the cement
had dried, we made a puree of yogurt and
spinach. We started a small fire in the oven
and began applying the puree to the inside to
create the smooth surface that is necessary to
apply the naan dough to the side.
Why did you build it?
Mindful that Indian cuisine is one of the
emerging cuisines in the U.S., I knew that
if I was going to begin to learn more about
it, I would need a tandoori oven. It is as
fundamental to Indian cuisine as a saute
pan is to French.
What skills does tandoori
I’m still working on that. I am still very
much an amateur at tandoori cooking, but
hope to improve my skills over time. For
the naan, you need to be able to make a
great dough that is highly hydrated. You
also need to have a tolerance (and the will)
to put your arm into a 700ºF oven.
What do you get that you
can’t get from a regular oven?
It’s a highly interactive oven that requires
the ability to manage temperature by
manipulating the intensity and location of
the wood fire in the oven’s base. The oven’s
flexibility is amazing. Bread cooks on the
sides, and meats, poultry, fish and vegetables
cook on the rods. It’s an amazing oven to
cook in, as it can generate incredibly high
temperatures, and it is fuel efficient.
What do you cook in it?
Everything. I even cooked a turkey over
Thanksgiving last year, and it turned out
amazingly well. At this point, I am trying
to stick with the basics—mostly naan, lamb
and chicken marinated in traditional spice
blends drawn from the cuisine.
Is it particularly good for
cooking something specific?
Naan—can’t make it any other way.
Describe the flavors.
The light smokiness from the live fire is
wonderful. Also, the intense high heat
develops flavors that are not going to be
achieved in a combi oven at 350ºF.
Are there challenges to
using it? Limits to what it
You need a good supply of hardwood for the
best control of temperature. Also, to achieve
the great smoky flavors, you want the
highest quality wood. The oven sits next to
two cords of aged, hand-split hardwood.
So, a tandoori oven for
Tandoori ovens are not commonly found
in most American kitchens. Without the
oven, you can’t really begin to explore the
cuisine properly. My advice is not to ignore
this emerging cuisine. It includes flavors
not commonly found in other cuisines
and opens your eyes to new techniques.
The food doesn’t present well, and I think
this is why it is taking longer to emerge.
I see chefs applying Indian flavors to
nontraditional preparations that will result
in great fusion.
FREEMAN MOSER III IS SENIOR EXECU TIVE CHEF AT KRAF T
FOODSERVICE, NOR THFIELD, ILL.