Chef at Home: Slice of Heaven

For baker Ken Forkish, pizza and wine are a match made for homebody dreams.

If you’re lucky enough to score an invitation to Ken Forkish’s house, don’t expect to go in through the front door—only strangers get the front-door treatment. Guests use the back door, which ushers you right into the heart of where you want to be: Forkish’s kitchen. 

The master baker and owner of Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Trifecta restaurant pretty much lives in his kitchen, a cozy sun-drenched space with marble countertops perfect for rolling out dough, and shelves full of wine glasses standing ready for a generous pour from his extensive collection. But it’s the nook at the back that clues you in to the fact that this isn’t just any chef’s kitchen, it’s a pizza chef’s kitchen—because that’s where you’ll find his custom-built, 4-foot-diameter wood-burning oven.

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“The same size as the one at Trifecta,” Forkish said, referring to his famed Portland tavern.

It was also built by the same master craftsman who built the imported hand-cut stone and clay tile oven at his nationally acclaimed Ken’s Artisan Pizza. But in order to fit this restaurant-worthy forno into his house, Forkish had to punch out the back wall and create a whole new addition. In other words, the oven came first, and they built the addition around it. The back half, in effect, became part of the exterior wall. If it was gone there’d be a gaping oven-shaped hole to the outside—not that the oven, or Forkish, are going anywhere.

“I’ve been here since 2004 and will be here a long time,” he said.

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With his restaurants running smoothly and his award-winning baking books still flying off shelves, Forkish says he’s ready to downshift a bit and focus more on enjoying the good things in life. He’d like to spend more time at home, inviting friends over for an evening of good food and good wine from his collection of coveted Italian imports and Willamette Valley pinot noirs: several bottles from Cameron and John Thomas and a hodgepodge—well-aged and all over the map—of Baralos, Barbarescos and rieslings.

Forkish says his wine collection is simply based on what he likes to drink, and most of what he likes happens to go really great with pizza.

“A lot of Italian wines are pizza friendly,” Forkish said. “Chianti is a great pizza wine, as are the red wines from the Amalfi Coast. It’s close to Naples so those are great pizza wines. Oregon pinot is, too, but it’s more delicate.”

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With so much great pizza wine in his collection, you can bet the oven gets a steady workout. “I’ll have it going a couple times a week during the rainy season,” he said. “I love making pizza. Sometimes I’ll use it just because I want to stare at the fire, but it’s not just an ornament. It’s a well-used oven.”

With cushy white couches flanking both sides, bookshelves along the ceiling and windows on every wall offering an aerial view into a green canopy of trees in his backyard, the oven and its nook are like a grown-up version of a childhood dream: a pizza oven in a treehouse.

“I just wish I had a wood fairy bringing me wood and stacking it by the oven,” Forkish said. “I’d burn it a lot more often.”

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