Have you ever seen a pizza cook in 45 seconds? According to Sean Langbroek, it’s possible. A brick and stone mason apprentice based in Niagara, Ont., Langbroek, along with his brother, Blake, also a brick and stone mason apprentice, spent the last three months building an outdoor pizza oven at their family cottage on Lorimer Lake, 25 kilometres north of Parry Sound.
The family has cottaged in the area for 25 years, their original property owned by Langbroek’s grandparents. That cottage, however, was sold to a family member, and the Langbroek-side stopped coming up. That changed when they purchased the property next door to the original cottage.
“[A pizza oven] was always something, when we bought the cottage, we said we were going to do,” Langbroek says. This isn’t because of an unhealthy obsession with pizza. Instead, Langbroek explains that a pizza oven is “that big project that a stonemason always wants to do. It’s so technical and it really tests all of your skills.”
Having mulled the idea over for more than a year, the brothers solidified the oven’s design in February, right before COVID-19 hit. “We figured we were going to get laid off for a couple of months, and so we went up north, and we got a start on it,” Langbroek says. “Then we got the call that we were going to have to work, which kind of put a wrench in our plans because we were planning on just staying up there for a month and getting it done.”
The brothers started digging out the base of the oven the first week of April, but returning to work forced them to sideline the project to weekends and the occasional mid-week run. “I put 12,000 kilometres on my pickup from April 1 to Canada Day,” Langbroek says.
Work went smoothly, for the most part, but they did encounter some snags. Building the dome of the oven was unlike any project the brothers had tackled on their own. “The oven dome is the one thing that takes the most talent and the most know-how to do,” he explains. “It’s not like any other brick wall or structure you’re building where everything’s laid straight up. Now, all of a sudden, you’re changing that to build an arch. It’s got to be a perfect half-circle so that the smoke flows off the top nicely and rolls out of the chimney periphery, and it all pushes the heat down to the floor to heat up the pizzas.”
To help, they brought in Blake’s boss, a family friend with some added experience. Langbroek says that the actual dome only consists of 120 bricks, which, if you were laying them on a straight wall, would take about an hour. The dome, even with the added help, took eight and a half hours. To make things worse, it was raining that day. According to Langbroek, if the mortar gets wet, it falls apart. “We had to quickly hustle and pull a tarp over the whole thing. We were working under this tarp, and all of us were working in this little child-made fort.”
An added hand from Blake’s boss wasn’t the only help they received. Other friends and family pitched in where they could. A cousin secured Brazilian soapstone for the countertop; a cottage neighbour crafted a custom-made Argentinian grill; and their dad managed to add the piece de resistance: a maple leaf cut from the Brazilian soapstone.
Langbroek had the idea for the maple leaf during the design phase—an added touch to make the oven pop. He ran the idea past his cousin who supplied the soapstone, but the cousin said he didn’t think it would work. The stone was too thin. It would crack. “I was so mad,” Langbroek says. “I normally don’t, but I just kind of gave up on the idea.”
As they started to build the chimney, Langbroek’s dad could tell the maple leaf was still bothering his son. Wanting to lend a hand wherever he could, Langbroek’s dad took the slab of soapstone home with him. Powering up the jigsaw and attaching a steel blade, he managed to cut what Langbroek describes as the “perfect” maple leaf. “That was the one stone he laid on the whole project.” Langbroek laughs.
After 440-man hours of work and $11,000 worth of materials, the brothers completed their outdoor pizza oven in time for Canada Day. “We made pizza at 900 degrees F at night, put the door on before bed, and made banana bread at 300 degrees F in the morning,” Langbroek says. If you’re really ambitious, he adds, you can get the oven up to 1,200 degrees F. That’s when it cooks the pizzas in under 45 seconds. They’re still working up to that.