Healthy, Light & Flawless Cooking with X-OVEN’s Next-Generation Charcoal Ovens

31 Aug 2021
8 min read
X-OVEN is revolutionising charcoal cooking in professional kitchens with its efficient, safe and practical ovens. Featuring an innovative side drawer system with different cooking heights and constant temperature control, the ovens encourage creativity and enhance the taste, aroma and possibilities of charcoal cooking. FOUR sits down with the CEO of X-OVEN, Alfredo Mercurio, to find out more…

Can you give us a brief overview of X-OVEN, including when it was founded and its history?

X-OVEN manufactures and distributes professional charcoal ovens to the HORECA sector. The company was founded in 2013, following the experience of Enrico Piazzi, restaurateur and innovator by profession and passion. X-OVEN built on Piazzi’s concept and initial market tests to develop an innovative solution conceived around chefs’ needs: a system of lateral grill drawers arranged at different heights at varying heat intensities, modelled to fit in a kitchen line effectively and safely, optimising space and workflows. The mission became to grow a successful but confined test into an international market reality.

In the process, we obtained an international patent for our distinctive features. X-OVEN Italia was created to directly follow the Italian national market and X-OVEN International, based in Lugano, Switzerland, was established as the company’s headquarters, responsible for the Swiss and international markets. Since then, we have reached more than 30 countries in Europe, the Americas and the Middle East, and continue to grow.

What are X-OVEN’s main philosophies and core production principles?

X-OVEN products represent a unique case in the competitive charcoal ovens arena, particularly functional to fine-dining restaurants and their diverse gastronomic menus. The challenge was to find the perfect balance between the grade of flavours derived from natural wood charcoal and safeguarding the organoleptic properties of the food selection. The enthusiastic response of our clients, referring specifically to the remarkable cooking result, distinguishable for its authenticity, taste and aroma, gave us confidence. We are now proud to contribute to legitimising charcoal use in haute cuisine.

Our products introduce a range of cooking tools that are safe, versatile and spark chefs’ creativity in serving unique preparations of recognisable plates. X-Oven is the only charcoal oven that offers multiple overlapping lateral grill drawers with differentiated heat intensities, ideal for diverse food preparations. The grill drawers have a partition on their end that, once opened, seals off the cooking chamber. This, once and for all, solves safety problems common to traditional charcoal ovens: smoke, heat, sparks and spills into the kitchen environment, plus uncontrollable and unpredictable bursts of flames. X-OVEN’s operational efficiency and low heat dissipation also considerably reduce charcoal consumption. The cooking quality and convenience of execution are the commandments that differentiate us from the rest.

Where does your passion for this field stem from?

When we started the company almost ten years ago, I was new to the sector.  I relied on the work experience of Enrico Piazzi that spent years in his restaurant’s kitchen amidst awkward, uneconomical and unsafe grills and had envisioned innovative solutions to address the various difficulties he encountered.  On the other hand, coming from the ICT sector and having matured managerial responsibilities at an international level, I had both the opportunity to bring a fresh new point of view to Piazzi’s concepts and the confidence to be able to effectively take our shared vision and product developments to international markets.

The passion came in the early stages of our venture when I realised how fascinating it was to deal with tangible assets after years of software and source codes. Transforming metal to develop a new, innovative way to bring charcoal cuisine back into modern professional kitchens felt and still feels like bringing back the soul to cooking. It brings me the most satisfaction when the chefs recognise this too.

Can you give us an overview of the products X-OVEN offers?

X-OVEN’s product range comprises four models designed to serve different cooking characteristics and workloads. There is also a list of accessories that permit personalised configurations for a variety of preparations.

X-OVEN 1 is the model with a single grill drawer and a relatively small, cubic-shaped cooking chamber. It is characterised by an aggressive and uniform internal temperature capable of remaining constant for more than 4 hours with a single load of charcoal.  It is the ideal solution for those preparations that need high heat intensity. At the same time, three alternative grill positions inside the same grill drawer, together with the possibility to reduce the charcoal load and confine it in one portion of the brazier tray, allows control of the intensity of the heat according to the chef’s preferences.

X-OVEN 2 is the model with two grill drawers overlapping each other. It is characterised by a larger cooking chamber that expands vertically and has double the cooking surface compared to the X-OVEN 1. It is also capable of keeping service temperature for approximately 4 hours with a single load of charcoal. These features result in generally less uniform and aggressive heat intensity, slightly milder on the top grill drawer. In the position closest to the brazier tray, the oven adopts a grill drawer with 15cm of available height, while on the upper level, the machine houses a grill drawer with 10cm of available height. X-OVEN 2 is the solution for chefs who want to combine the different heat intensities between grill drawers, suitable for customising cooking techniques, with a sufficiently homogeneous internal serving temperature to optimise production capacity.

X-OVEN 3 is the top-of-the-range model with three grill drawers. X-OVEN 3 offers the chef many alternative cooking and preparation options in a single tool, guaranteeing speed, versatility and quality results. The three grill drawers are arranged at different distances from the brazier, allowing simultaneous cooking of a variety of food, choosing between the higher temperatures near the brazier or the indirect, slow cooking of the top drawer.

X-OVEN BURGER MACHINE is the latest innovation in the range. It is a model with a built-in fry top designed to meet the needs of the multitude of restaurant formats that have emerged in recent years, which place the gourmet hamburger at the core of their proposal. Up until today, two pieces of equipment were usually needed to prepare a hamburger: one to cook the meat and the other to toast the bread. Or else a single tool was used, but it often ran the risk of jeopardising the result. The machine is based on the concept of charcoal cooking in a closed chamber and exploits the heat generated inside the chamber, both to cook the foods placed on the grill drawers and to heat the above standing fry top. Thanks to these features, the cooking is attentive and qualitative since the meat does not dry out and retains its organoleptic properties. At the same time, the bread is also toasted without running the risk of burning and without becoming soaked with grease and cooking residue.

What are some of the key design elements that are incorporated into the ovens?

X-OVEN saves energy, time and space. It reaches high heat intensity and keeps it constant during service, preventing direct contact with hot embers thanks to its lateral grill drawer system. The porcelain finish contributes to retaining heat inside the cooking chamber and, combined with the efficient brazier-lifting cart, serves to make the best use of every calorie. At the same time, energy efficiency and low heat dispersion result in faster preparation and service operations that can lead to up to a 50% productivity increase compared to traditional charcoal ovens. Moreover, the compact and functional design – less than one square meter of space – together with the possibility of choosing either right or left grill drawers, allow optimal workflow in any professional kitchen line.

Which materials are used to manufacture the ovens, and how do these maximise their durability and functionality?

Mainly stainless steel and iron. Thick iron is used for the cooking chamber and, together with a porcelain finish, this guarantees durability, heat retention and facilitates maintenance. Different thicknesses of iron are used for other parts like the brazier tray and brazier cart inner structure. Stainless steel is used for cover panels, exhaust systems, grill drawers and accessories, contributing to the product’s longevity, facilitating sanitisation and offering a modern, clean look.

The ovens help in preserving the natural flavour of foods; how is this so?

It’s true, X-OVEN means healthy, light and flawless cooking. The heat of the embers wraps and “seals” the surface of the food: juices and mineral salts are retained within, enhancing the natural taste and flavour while keeping its softness intact. In fact, X-OVEN’s closed chamber is designed to minimise the development of uncontrolled flames while guaranteeing an ideal and constant temperature during service. Hence, the food quality is excellent – the food is perfectly cooked, healthy and light. A result that means a lot for any chef interested in giving value to the quality of their dishes.

The ovens allow cooking at different temperatures, which also stimulates the creativity and freedom of chefs when creating dishes. Can you expand a bit on the ovens’ various cooking options?

X-OVEN’s product line offers dynamic cooking systems suitable for a wide variety of needs and can turn into true creative instruments in the hands of talented chefs. Having multiple grill drawers to cook different dishes simultaneously at different temperatures means relying upon the most intense heat in the grill drawer nearest the brazier, then a gradually diminishing one in the grill drawers further away from the embers. Alternatively, you have single grill drawers to cook at a higher and more uniform temperature.

X-OVEN is the ideal cooking mate for diverse cooking techniques – grilling, cooking au gratin, roasting, toasting and smoking on charcoal. Adjusting the smoke outlet valve can modulate the food taste: closed for more intense embers or wide open for greater delicacy. Even the combustibles play their part; X-OVEN’s selected charcoal is deliberately neutral to enhance the natural flavour of the food, but by adding wood chips of various essences and scents, possible flavour nuances become endless. X-OVEN frees creativity in each chef and lends itself to many cooking methods while giving excellent results.

Tell us about some of the other main advantages of X-OVEN?

In addition to the advantages already mentioned, it is important to point out that our equipment can be easily fitted into an existing kitchen under its aspiration hood because of its functional characteristics and dimensions. This constitutes an important advantage compared to competitors’ single front hatch equipment that exceeds typical kitchen line depth dimensions and consequently requires dedicated kitchen space and an aspiration hood to be installed. The outcome is an inefficient use of kitchen space, higher costs and missed workflow optimisation.

Is there continuous research and design happening behind the scenes to try and improve the product and develop new models?

Yes, for sure. Our R&D activity moves forward in two directions: on the one hand, pursuing the current strategy to complete our product range while, on the other, exploiting customer’s feedback gathered in years of activity, to improve the products and rethink the product line for the years to come. An important emphasis is also placed on a variety of new accessories that will contribute more and more to customising our offering to users’ needs.

X-OVENs are used by some of the world’s top chefs and have found homes in some of the best restaurants and hotel kitchens. Who have you partnered with, and why do you think they have selected to use X-OVEN?

Today many restaurants in Italy and in the world take advantage of the versatility and efficiency of X-OVEN products: from the Midtown Grill at Berlin Marriott Hotel to the Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli in London; the Sheraton Salzburg-Fuschlsee Hotel Jagdhof in Austria; the Killarney Park Hotel in Ireland; the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai; the Hyatt Regency Sochi in Russia and even Eataly Lingotto in Turin, just to mention a few names.

All the chefs we are in touch with consider the charcoal cooking method as primordial and are in some way fascinated by the duality – of tradition and innovation – that is so deeply part of X-OVEN. Some chefs appreciate its manoeuvrability, others appreciate its ability to fully preserve food’s succulence. A famous Italian butcher has even said he is most happy when his meat is cooked with X-OVEN equipment, “It takes two years of wild breeding to get a perfect piece of meat, so it’s good to know that there is an oven that can maximise this result.”

After the first pandemic lockdown, some restaurants we work with decided to change their menus and totally focus on preparations based on charcoal cooking. The versatility of our ovens proved to be one of the most appreciated features. But the most valued feedback was about the diners’ reactions: impressed and amazed by the unique taste and quality of the dishes. This generated curiosity and the opportunity to introduce them to charcoal oven cooking with specific storytelling.

How do you hope the ovens will impact the lives of their users?

It is not a simple hope. We know that X-OVENs have a tangible impact on the lives of our clients. Let’s talk about safety: the chef opens the grill drawers with one finger, checks the cooking, and works with the food without ever contacting the heat source. Efficiency and consumptions: X-OVEN ovens considerably reduce charcoal consumption, 80% less than a standard open flame grill and 50% less than the competitors. And don’t forget the food’s outcome which gives the chefs enormous satisfaction. The impact is real and true.

To find out more, visit X-Oven’s website, Instagram profile, Facebook page, YouTube channel or Twitter account