This isn’t some half-baked scheme.
It’s a well thought-out plan that coordinates the efforts of multiple departments, provides students with hands-on experience, re-invents a couple of programs and proliferates the concept of farm-to-table.
But at 650ºF, just don’t leave it in too long.
Lebanon County Career and Technology Center has embarked on a unique project to construct a brick pizza oven, along with an accompanying herb garden. But this is no ordinary brick pizza oven.
This one has been made special by the fact that it has brought together the knowledge and talents of the culinary arts, masonry, carpentry, and landscape shops for one common, on-campus, outdoor project. It will also allow future culinary arts students at the former “Vo-Tech” opportunities to explore cooking and baking in entirely different ways.
“You have to reinvent things,” said Chef Robert Corle, Jr., who, along with Pastry Chef Brian Peffley, instructs the culinary arts program at LCCTC. “The students I had 23 years ago aren’t the ones I have today. Sometimes seeing it and doing it are two different things. I want kids to understand that animals give their lives so we can eat. It’s going to give them an appreciation for what is done. That’s what it’s about, connecting everything.
“It helps us (the instructors) from getting stale,” Corle continued. “We need to go in different directions. You’re always trying to find things that take kids in different directions.”
When the outside brick pizza oven is completed—hopefully in the not-too-distant future—it will allow students to create pizza flavored by burning wood. But pizza is just the delicious jumping off point.
The functioning brick pizza oven will also give LCCTC students the capability to cook delicacies like bread, poultry and seafood, as well as smoke meats.
The adjoining herb garden will produce things like tomatoes, both annual and perennial herbs, edible flowers and kale. Ultimately, the final mouth-watering dishes will be made available to the public through Lebanon County Career and Technology Center’s restaurant, Hilltop Cafe.
“The first thing we’re going to make is pizza, just to see how it goes,” said Corle. “As we keep working on it, we’ll keep inventing. First you build the fire, then you have it off in the corner, and you have to check the temperature. With the insulated brick, the brick ovens can get up to 650ºF, and it holds that temperature. When you put it in there, it only takes minutes to cook, because it’s that hot.
“With a wood-roasted chicken, you have that earthiness, that smokiness,” added Corle. “It gives it another level of flavor. It’s the same things you like about barbecue. It’s not just a pizza oven. It’s much more than that.”
Corle is the man with the plan.
The brick pizza oven and complementary herb garden concept is his idea, one that is eight years in the making and beginning to become concrete. With helping hands from masonry, electric and landscape, Corle is hoping the herb garden will be finished before the school year is out and that the brick pizza oven, with accenting patio and quite possibly a roof, will be completed sometime next year.
“There was a concrete slab just sitting there,” said Corle. “I thought to myself, I’m going to put a smoker there.’ When the masonry program started, I started throwing ideas at them. It just went from there. The design is all theirs.
“There are younger teachers here,” continued Corle. “They’re trying to teach new things. We ended up working together, and we have other teachers thinking of their own projects as well. It’s a collaborative effort.”
While the brick oven and herb garden will force future students out of their cooking comfort zones, it could have the same effect on the instructors as well.
“We’re going to do ‘alfresco’ outdoor cooking,” said Corle. “We’re going to do multiple things out there. It’s got tons of potential. It’s got a learning experience attached to it.
“It’s going to be trial-and-error with some of the stuff,” added Corle. “We’re going to play. That’s part of the fun.”
When the project is completed, Corle will be ready to take the farm-to-table concept to the next level. He is currently envisioning turning a plot of LCCTC-owned land into a pasture, complete with live stock and a small barn.
“That’s a long-range project,” said Corle. “But it would really bring the farm-to-table plan into play. It’s all here. That green grass on the other side of the parking lot could be a pasture for sheep and free-range chickens. And we could use carpentry to do a chicken house. It’s that sustainability, that farm-to-table effect.”
The LCCTC’s public Hilltop Cafe is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10:30am – 12pm. Potential diners are asked to call ahead to make reservations and confirm hours at 717-273-8551 extension 2113.
An earlier version of this post had a typo in the headline. We sincerely regret the error.