2016 Rising Star Baker Neil Blazin of Driftwood Oven

2016 Rising Star Baker Neil Blazin of Driftwood Oven
November 2016

If there’s something innately beautiful about the prospect of mobile, wood fire oven-baked pizza on its own, Neil Blazin somehow makes the whole concept even better, combining the power of pizza with his artisanship.  

Before he brought Pittsburgh a glorious moveable feast, Blazin was living outside the city in Moon Township. A chance encounter, or more likely several slightly intentional encounters, with his future wife found Blazin falling in love and starting a new life on Pittsburgh’s Southside. He’d been working in the food world for some time, mostly in the front of house, but once he started baking in 2013, Blazin fell in a love again. 

He started his first bread program at Trevett Hooper’s Legume Bistro, a Pittsburgh landmark. Blazin was able to study and expand his skills among Hooper and his staff, which included Blazin’s future partner, Justin Vetter. The two didn’t just click socially, but professionally; they wanted to work for themselves, and Blazin wanted to create his own revolutionary bread and pizza program. The result—Driftwood Oven—took to the streets of Pittsburgh in 2015. Their mission, and Blazin’s goal as a baker, isn’t to simply create the highest quality naturally leavened breads and pizza dough, but to do so with a strong ethical backbone based on hyper-local sourcing. He buys his flour from a 25-year-old family run farm, where the wheat is grown and ground to order. If Pittsburgh has a revolution in baking authenticity, it has Blazin to thank. 

Interview with Rust Belt Rising Star Artisan Neil Blazin of Driftwood Oven

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
Neil Blazin
: I’ve been working in food for a while, always front of the house. I Started baking in 2013 and fell in love with it. I started a little bread program at Legume, and they allowed me to do more production. I still sell through their branch of a local farm co-op. The restaurant let me use their oven, and I baked at home. I got tired of working for other people, and decided to make better pizza. I fell in love with baking naturally leavened bread. We launched in August of last year. I make only one type of bread.

CH: Tell me about it.
It’s a standard naturally leavened loaf. They rise overnight. I don’t use production yeast. I wanted to use something from western Pennsylvania. It’s tough to grow wheat in these wet conditions. We get rain, but it works. It grows with long stems that come off the husk. Deer eat them less, and we chose it for that. It’s a good hearty winter wheat that gets harvested in the fall. This year I switched to a new crop of wheat. It was a much wetter year, so the properties changed. This bread has tons of enzyme activity, slack dough, and falls apart easier. As the year goes on the flour will change as it dries out. It changes all the time and keeps you on your toes. 

CH: Tells us about the flour?
The flour is from Weatherbury Farms. The wheat is Maxine, it’s grown and stone milled at the same place. They’ve been there 25 years, they’re a small family. They also do grass-fed beef, sheep, and also other grains. The farmer mills two days before I get it.

CH: What about your oven? 
It’s from Bread Stone Ovens out of Dallas. I sought this oven out because it worked for bread, as well as other applications. Most ovens lose heat after one bake, but this can do four after cooking pizza with cool down. It’s a nice dual capability oven. All hardwood fuel.

CH: What's your five year plan? 
We want to extend the bread subscription next season. We have a nice rhythm right now. We want time for more bread production. Another buddy wants to invest in us, and we think things will happen in a year and a half. I want my space to be centered around food but not 100% focused on it, as I also want a bit of community gathering. We also don’t want any waste––flour is expensive.