Kristian Tapaninaho, 32, likes his pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven. So he made one. Soon you can have one too.
With a background in creative arts and photography, cooking was far from the vocation Tapaninaho was aiming for. Getting married and having a son was what first led him to the kitchen of his Lewisham home a couple years ago, where he discovered the joys of pizza making.
He soon found that his traditional oven was just not good enough. So Kristian invented Uuni, the first portable and affordable wood-fired pizza oven, soon to be commercially available.
“I’ve always had an interest in food,” he begins. We are in his living room, around the large wooden table occupying the centre of his family home. “My mum used to run a bakery, and there was always good food in the house. But I didn’t cook so much until a few years ago. Then I started making pizza. ”
This is when the idea of Uuni came to him: a wood fired oven that would be small and light enough to be moved around easily, fast to heat up and easy to use. “I wanted a real wood-fired oven, but we were renting a house, so I narrowed down the key things to take into consideration to make an oven, and I started sketching.”
In December 2011, from his kitchen in suburban Crofton Park, he pitched the idea to his wife Darina, who said it “sounded good.” Uuni was born.
He pulls out his iPad to show me pictures of the most recent prototype. “I had to keep everything quiet at first,” he says mischievously, “but we have the patent now.” Swiping from picture to picture, he details the functioning of the oven.
Uuni is 48cm long by 36cm wide, weighs about 5kg, and is made mostly of sheet steel. Wood is placed in the back of the oven, and the fire burns thanks to a draft created by the suction coming from the small chimney situated on the top of Uuni. Holes in the front of the oven let the hot gases under the base of the pizza, allowing the base to be cooked.
Figuring out how Uuni would work was only the first step. Once it was done, Kristian had to find a source of money, and turned to crowd funding.
“I had always had in mind I would use Kickstarter. I don’t recall even thinking about getting a loan; it’s so difficult. Plus, using this platform allowed me to really test my idea, and see if anybody else thought there was a market for it.”
It turned out there was one: 142 backers from all over the world pledged £17,136, more than twice the £7,000 goal Kristian had been aiming for. He still looks surprised as he tells me the figures, as if the information hadn’t sank in yet.
“We sold 92 ovens in pre-orders, almost 70 more than what I had planned. It was so unexpected, incredible, and absolutely amazing.”
“I think this is the decade of crowd funding. Big institutions are going to be disturbed by it. Last year, a project for a watch raised £10m on Kickstarter which is the largest amount ever raised on the website so far. I believe in ten years, we’ll look at that and think ‘that’s pennies’.”
When it got to promoting the fundraiser, Kristian recalls the experience as “properly hardcore.”
“It was a whole month of PR and pestering people,” he laughs frankly. “I was constantly thinking about it, checking my email, refreshing the Kickstarter page to see if anyone had backed the project or was asking questions. I enjoyed it but it was really hard work.”
As a means to show off Uuni to the community and local backers, Kristian and his wife set up a one-day-only pop-up restaurant mid-February on Restaurant Day. This quarterly event, originating from Finland, encourages any lover of food to open a restaurant for a day.
“It was very popular, despite us keeping it really quiet. We had up to fifteen people at the same time across four tables in our living room, and some people came all the way from Kent!”
“I’ve never owned a restaurant before,” says Kristian, who currently co-runs an educational consultancy with his wife, “but we cooked all the food with Uuni, and everyone seemed really happy. We want to do it again in May, hopefully outside this time, and maybe Uuni backers only.”
As I hear the name one more time, I finally have to ask: why Uuni? “Darina is the genius behind the name of our project,” Kristian tells me. She pops out of the kitchen to explain: “It means oven in Finnish, so I started calling it that, and it stuck.”
“It’s a word that doesn’t exist in other languages,” adds Kristian. “It’s really simple, and allowed for a clear and uncomplicated logo. But mostly, it’s unique.”
Companies around the world apparently share this opinion of Kristian’s project and there has been a lot of interest from distributers and resellers all around the world. “It’s been really encouraging,” Kristian says. “Now we have to get the ovens ready, deliver the pre-orders from Kickstarter, and hopefully have more ready to be sold for the summer.”
And of unique ideas, it seems Kristian has many more. “Right now, the priority is to get Uuni up and running. It should then take care of itself to a large extent. After that, there is a couple of other product ideas I want to try. First an add-on for Uuni, and other cooking related projects.”
He concludes: “Many people are interested, and I feel really humbled by that.”
“It’s been an absolutely amazing experience.”
To order Uuni click here.