Ana Ortiz was in her early twenties when her boyfriend, Tom, took her to her first British barbecue. “It was a shock for me,” she recalls. “There were burgers and sausages – and coleslaw from the supermarket.” Ana grew up in the Galapagos Islands where weekend-long feasts cooked over fire were a regular part of family life. “It was a completely different experience from what I was used to,” she says. “For me, growing up, we always ate the best produce – really amazing, simple food with incredible flavours. Cooking was about everyone getting involved, so just having to sit there and not help was really difficult…”
As part of a big family, most of Ana’s childhood memories revolve around the preparation and enjoyment of food. “I have 25 cousins, so family gatherings were more like mini festivals,” she recalls. At the centre of each festival was the fire kitchen. Her grandfather – known affectionately as Papi Polo – would kill an animal and spend the weekend preparing it in different ways: “It was a proper nose-to-tail experience,” Ana says.
As children, small hands were put to work shelling broad beans, stuffing morcillas and picking leaves for bottomless salads. She remembers her grandfather patiently brushing the meat in salmuera, a braising brine made from water, lemon and salt. He used a branch of rosemary or bay – sometimes even a spring onion frayed at one end – to form a flavoursome brush. (“Dry rubs and oils will burn and singe the meat,” she explains.)
Ana’s passion for simple, flavourful food was ingrained from an early age. As a young girl, she spent time at sea with her uncle, who was “an amazing fisherman.” The pair would fish for lobster, drop anchor at a remote beach and grill their catch on a volcanic rock. “We’d add salt and some chilli sauce, which my uncle always kept with him in his boat.”
Ana met Tom when visiting her brother, who was studying at the London School of Economics. After Tom finished university, he flew to Ecuador “straight away.” The couple married and had a daughter, Isabella. When she was six months old, the family relocated to Somerset, where they have lived for the past 16 years. “I wouldn't have been able to live in London,” Ana reflects. “That would have been too much of a difference.”
When Ana returned to work, she found a job at a local farm shop prepping salads “Ottolenghi-style.” She then undertook intensive training in a French-style British chain restaurant in Soho before becoming head chef at the Pythouse Kitchen Garden restaurant in Tisbury, where she introduced fire cooking – “a great restaurant that had the same ethos as me: everything we used came from the garden.” Shortly after, the Roth Bar and Grill in the grounds of Hauser and Wirth discovered Ana’s talent and she was approached to oversee their new restaurant project.
Eight years ago, her own business idea began to emerge. “I love hosting people,” says Ana. “They are so happy and amazed with the flavours of my food, and that’s how Fire Made started.” Gradually, Ana was asked to cook for private parties and small gatherings. Then, when planning an open fire meal, she struggled to find an asado cross. “We wanted to cook a whole lamb a la cruz, but we couldn’t find anyone who sold one. Eventually, Tom found a local blacksmith who agreed to make one for us. He is now our business partner.”
The couple had so many enquiries about the custom cookware, they commissioned Tim to handcraft several more. “We ordered 10 more crosses to be made, then 20 and little by little, we’ve become the suppliers for the world’s main fire restaurants.” Fire Made now supplies equipment to global restaurants and top chefs such as Marcus Wareing, Gordon Ramsay, Paul Ainsworth, Jamie Oliver and Tomos Parry, whose acclaimed restaurant, Brat, put open fire cooking firmly on the UK’s culinary map five years ago.
Their equipment ranges from bespoke professional fire cooking rigs to at-home porticos, simple grills and chapas (griddle plates). They also sell a range of rather sinister-looking accessories for clamping fish, hanging ribs or suspending tender chickens over the flames. The clean, minimalist designs have been refined by Tom and Ana over the years and are still made by Tim in his local foundry.
Although open fire cooking has become more mainstream, it requires practice, which is why Fire Made also offers masterclasses and group experience days that enable you to “become an asador for the day.” Ana and Tom both demonstrate how to prepare lamb a la cruz, hung beef, fire vegetables roasted directly in the embers and potatoes cooked on the chapa griddle. Salmuera and chimichurri feature heavily – as does Ana’s homemade chilli sauce.
“In our family alone, there are more than 20 different recipes for chilli sauce,” Ana reveals. “All of my aunties and uncles have their own version of it, but the one I love the most includes pumpkin seeds that have been smoked over the fire. It gives them this incredibly delicious, nutty flavour.” Every sauce Ana creates will have a fire element: “If I make chilli sauce without grilling the ingredients before, it just doesn’t taste the same.”
Remolacha & Ají de Pepa de Sambo
Ember Beetroot & Pumpkin Seed Ají
5 heritage beetroots
Small bunch of mint
For the Pumpkin Seed Ají:
100g pumpkin seeds
1/2 piece of spring onion
1 green pepper
3 green chillies
1 lime - juice
1 tsp salt
Pinch of cumin
50g of rapeseed oil
Cook the whole beetroots directly onto hot embers until the skin becomes burnt and soft inside (texture like a tomato when is squeezed).
Halve the courgettes and grill them really quickly just upside down for around 10 mins over fire. You want them to still have bite. Then set aside.
While the beetroot is cooking we can make the ají. Grill the green pepper and chillies until blackened.
Toast the pumpkin seed in a pan over the fire to give it a good smoky flavour.
When finished grilling the ingredients, use a pestle and mortar or a blender and blitz all the ingredients to a thick paste adding water little by little until you have a thick dressing consistency.
Peel the beetroot and slice it along with the courgettes into medium size bites.
Spread the thick ‘ají’ on the base of the bowl, and top with the beetroot and courgettes.
Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with fresh mint leaves.
Interview by Nell Card.
Photographs by Marco Kesseler.