“I’m doing some research and development on flour,” Willard Gustavsen tells me the moment I step past the historic brick façade of the late 19th century building into the linear space of his restaurant named, simply enough, Gustavsen.
Here relics of the original space mix with the new. An exposed brick wall at the back of the open kitchen rises up to meet a newly installed corrugated tin ceiling, the original beaded poplar board ceiling in the dining canopies tables and counters made from sleek blonde hard maple, concrete floors and old tractor seats painted white and mounted on legs for seating. Trunks of white birch trees stand in the corner and the windows are large, letting in plenty of light.
“It’s very much Scandinavian style,” says Gustavsen as we head to the kitchen area. Norwegian by heritage, Gustavsen was born in St. Joseph, Michigan while his parents attended Andrews University before returning to Hønefoss, a small town located on Lake Tyrifjorden, about an hour northwest of Oslo. But before long, the family moved again, this time to Gimbi, Ethiopia where he spent seven years while his parents worked as missionaries.
Gustavsen seems always to be on fast forward and within the first few minutes, he has shown me an article that recently appeared in Chicago magazine naming Wellfleet in Chicago as having the city’s Best New Pizza.
“They’re using the pizza oven I invented,” he says about the 2stone High Heat Hearth Oven, one of the products that his company 2stone makes.
Indeed, Gustavsen isn’t necessarily an artisan food maker though he already has a following who are devoted to his thin crust pizzas, Norwegian style cinnamon rolls and freshly roasted and ground coffees made individually one at a time in glass carafes.
But before I can finish reading the article, Gustavsen is on to beans (the flour R & D seems to have been postponed for a while). He carries only two types – both Arabica, a species of coffee which originated in the mountains of Ethiopia’s southwestern highlands and a Nicaraguan bean.
“Ethiopia is the birth place of coffee,” says Gustavsen as he measures out 21 grams of beans he roasted this morning, their fragrance still scenting the air before placing them in a grinder.
“The minute you grind the beans they start oxidizing,” says Gustavsen which is why he uses freshly roasted beans versus beans roasted and then aged. Using water heated to the exact point of boiling, Gustavsen slowly pours it over the beans in a circular motion. No Mr. Coffee machines for this guy.
The coffee Gustavsen hands me is indeed amazingly rich and lush.
“Freshly roasted makes brewing coffee frothy,” he says, by way of explaining why he’s on the side favoring freshly roasted beans. “Coffee making is not production, it’s more artisan. Oslo is known for its light roasted coffees, people come from all over to learn how to do it because it’s very hard to light roast coffee. If you go to Starbucks, the coffee is dark.”
Taking my coffee I follow him to the 1500 pound marble work table where Gustavsen makes his pizza dough. Here I find out that not only did Gustavsen, who when younger worked with his brothers and fathers in construction building over 200 houses, made the table and the pizza ovens but also the metal trays where he proofs his dough and much of the other equipment here. And as if that wasn’t enough, he and his son Tyler spent 2 ½ years renovating the building which had stood empty for two years and built the furniture. Jeanne Gustavsen designed the window alcove space. It is indeed, a busy family.
“I started off not making my dough because I’m not a chef,” says Gustavsen. “But I quickly figured out you have to know how to make it to make a good pizza. People always ask me for a recipe but it’s the way make it and proof not so much the ingredients. Where a good pizza is being made is in your proofing protocol and mixing protocol.”
His proofing protocol calls for cold proofing the dough in the refrigerator for about 12 hours instead of at room temperature. Removing a perfectly round ball from proofing tray, Gustavsen shows how this type of proofing creates an outer skin
Today, Gustavsen is using an unbromated, unbleached, low protein all purpose flour he bought in Chicago the day before. Unbromated means the flour doesn’t contain potassium bromate which is used to improve dough elasticity creating higher rising breads. Outlawed in the United Kingdom, it is considered a possible carcinogen. He makes a wet dough so that the trapped water explodes while baking, producing a fuller crust but one that’s airy.
“Not so many calories in air,” says Gustavsen placing chunks of mozzarella instead of shredded because, as he explains, the shredded cheese traps the water and smothers the sauce, making the pizza soggy.
Then the pizza goes into the pizza oven he invented and manufactures (Gustavsen has been awarded six patents for his inventions) where it rotates on a baking stone (he also designs these). Since the oven door is open I can watch it turn in circles while bakes which takes less than four minutes. He also uses the ovens for roasting coffee beans and baking kanel bolle, his Norwegian style cinnamon rolls.
“The way I learned about pizza was in Ethiopia,” says Gustavsen. “The Italians colonized Ethiopia in the 1930s and opened pizzerias. My dad used to bring home these pizzas and they were so good. I wanted to create those pizzas 40 years later.”
His culinary roots in Ethiopia also influenced him in other ways.
“My ovens have a similar design which is due to the stones they to make injera, a type of pancake, it has the same curve,” he says. “It was interesting I was thinking of the design for my oven and realized I was thinking of the injera stone.”
107 Main St, Buchanan. 269-697-3065; gustavsencoffeeandpizza.com
Open Thursday and Friday 9 a.m. to noon for coffee and rolls; noon to 7 p.m. for pizza; Saturday 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for coffee and pizza; Sunday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for coffee and rolls; 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. for pizza.
Gustavsen’s Margherita Pizza
8 cups of all purpose flour
25 ounces water
1-1/2 tablespoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
Marinara sauce, your favorite recipe
Mozzarella, not shredded
Fresh basil, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 500° to 600°F.
Mix flour, water and yeast until smooth. Then add salt making sure not to be overly mixed. Let dough sit for 7 to 10 minutes.
Put dough out on the countertop and stretch and fold 3 times for 1 minute with 7 minutes rest periods in between. Bulk proof in the refrigerator overnight in a covered container.
Make individual dough balls between 8-9 ounces each and cover and proof at room temperature for 2-4 hours, depending on temperature and humidity.
Proof the individual dough balls in the fridge again if you want to use them in the next couple of days. If so bring them to room temperature before you stretch them out to 12-13-inch circles.
Spread marinara sauce sparingly over the circle of dough and then apply mozzarella cheese in 1/2 to 1/3 golf ball size chunks. Follow up with some chopped fresh basil with a drizzle of olive oil to keep topping from burning.
Bake in a preheated oven on a stone if possible at 500-600° F.