Today we talk with Al Marsh, the proprietor and cook at Al’s Pizza Oven in East Cowes.
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We are talking today with Al MArsh from Al’s Pizza Oven in East Cowes. Thank you for meeting with us today Al………
So you are the owner and the cook here at Al’s Pizza Oven?
Yes, well as you will find in many of these places, if the owner is also the cook, it means that they manage to keep their reputation as only the owner knows how good the standards need to be.
So have you always wanted to own a pizza place?
No although I have been here for fifteen years this isn’t what I had always wanted to do. I had always wanted to be a photographer; and I am, Alan Marsh Photography.
Thats amazing, so you not only have the pizza oven but you are also a photographer too? What sort of thing do you shoot?
Motorsports, weddings and generally anything anyone wants me to do really. I have a studio in the building so I can do portraits as well.
So what is your signature food ?
I would say it would be the one that we devised in the first place that others seem to have wanted to replicate around the island…. the breakfast on the pizza plate. It’s called the British Bulldog and has sausage, egg, bacon, mushrooms and baked beans on a pizza base. You can eat the breakfast then eat the plate!
So when you aren’t working on pizza masterpieces do you eat out anywhere on the island?
No, I’m afraid that we just don’t have time, we do have the occasional Chinese or Indian which are local but they are take aways. I love the Sweet and sour chicken hong kong style or the Chop suey.
So apart from the occasional take away, what would you consider your main sin food?
CHOCOLATE!!!! Milk, Belgian or Swiss.
What is your favourite healthy food?
Dark chocolate, it’s good for the heart apparently. Yes, both my sin food and healthy food are chocolate but you don’t get to be this size by not liking chocolate; and besides, nobody trusts a thin chef do they???? If you have a skinny chef there must be something wrong.
What has been the strangest food that you have eaten yourself?
I think it has got to be when I was in either Morocco or Tunisia. It was called ‘The Brick’. It was an egg inside this crispy shell and it was cooked by the Troglodites underground. They all live underground in caves…. and basically you bite into the brick and you cant help but wear it, it goes everywhere. It is not what you would call a hard fired egg, it’s ‘yokey’ and you wear it. I think it is what the Army boys would call a ‘Banjo’ as you have to wipe it off your front whilst holding it away from you so it drips on the floor…. I have to say though, it was actually quite nice once you had gotten over the initial shock of it coming out everywhere. Of course though; being the first out of the group to eat it, all the others were able to see what happened and so were all a lot more careful when they ate theirs.
So you have been a chef for a ong time now, but what is the most eventful meal you have ever prepared?
I would think back in 1977 I was running a small restaurant back in Bournemouth which was a 14 seater and 18 people turned up. We had Ian Hendry at the head of the table and they all ordered their food and I worked out the bill at the end of it and went to present their bill and they turned to me and told me that they all wanted to pay separately. So by the time I had gone around the table asking each person what they had had to eat individually it had worked out about £40 more than if they had paid together. God knows why, I think that they had shared a portion of chips but just said they had eaten chips so they were added to the bill. But I told them and they just said ‘Oh well, keep it’ then they gave me a £20 tip as well so a good night. I don’t get anything like that now as the staff get all the tips….
When you are not cooking in the pizza oven what sort of food do you eat at home and is it you that does all the cooking for your family?
We eat Indian, Chinese and Denise’s famous cottage pie – It’s absolutely wonderful and I love it to bits, but it gives me instant indigestion as I am not supposed to eat fatty type foods, but when she cooks it I just can’t help myself. I just ensure I have a ready supply of Gaviscon.
What is the one ingredient that you really don’t think you could live without when you are cooking here at Als Pizza Oven?
Cheese, definitely. Mozzarella cheese.
What is the strangest request that someone has asked you for?
Some poor chap did once phone up and mention the word ‘hot’ three times in the sentence when he ordered his pizza. I don’t think he will do it again… he might say it twice but I certainly don’t think he will say it three times. When I saw his son afterwards I did say that he could have taken some off and his son replied that there was no chance of that as it would have ruined his macho image. So I think he must have suffered after that.
In your opinion what is the most overrated ingredient?
I don’t really think we have one here. Everything is as important as each other. With pizza it is all a matter of balance. I had people come to me in the realy days and ask for what they considered they wanted on their pizza and I used to think ‘you’re not really going to put all those ingredients on a pizza are you?’ but nowadays I have got immune to it and put whatever people ask for on top no matter how strange it sounds. I can’t say I have tried any of the dtrange concoctions myself, I love pizza and have eaten quite a few in my time, and I do sell them made the way I like to buy them – i.e. you want to see all the toppings not go hunting for them. There really is nothing worse than getting a pizza and having a great big gap between toppings. I know that some people say that less is more…. well not in the pizza business there isn’t.
Who is the chef that you most admire past or present?
That has to be Lenny Henry. When he first started out it was in the same restaurant in Bournemouth, Bumbles Nightclub. He came in one night as the nightclub was one of those places where all the stars that were appearing in Bournemout could go in there without being pestered. It was always full of the more mature clientele so they could go and not be hounded like some of the other places. Lenny walked into the kitchen where I was working and said ‘What can I get for £1.50 and I said he could have anything he liked so long as he cooked it himself haha. My claim to fame; I have worked in a kitchen with Lenny Henry. My only claim to fame. The great thing about Bumbles was that it was a nightclub so it went on to about 2am. It was in the days where young lads used to go out dressed in a suit, chat up young ladies and take them out for a meal, well what better place to do it than in the ightclub where you had just chatted them up. You could sit quietly and enjoy a meal together and talk rather than shouting over music ounding in your ears. That was one of the places whereby I was the chef, waiter and the washer upper, but at least I got to keep my tips..
So have you always wanted to be a chef and photographer when you were younger or was there another calling you didn’t quite answer?
I started out as an aircraft technician and did my apprentiship doing that for 5 years and since then went into the amusement business just doing a bit of cooking in between. I was actually the first factory trained microwave engineer in the south coast when they first came out in 1972 or 73. I had a few hairy experiences when I was working at Bournemouth Pier when the football teams decided that they wwere going to car bomb while the game was going on.
What is your idea of food hell?
Macdonalds or KFC. I know that I sell fast food here, but mine is cooked to sell to a particular customer rather than cooked to sit on a shelf and wait to be bought or thrown away. I pride myself that everything here is cooked fresh and is cooked, not with love as that is corny, but with care. I like what I do and I want people to like what I do so I take care in doing it. All the photos you see on the wall here are pictures I have taken myself of our food as we have prepared it. I have to say though, I love the Macdonalds 99p ice creams.
I think that is about all the questions I have for you Al, finally is there anything else you would like to say about Als Pizza Oven?
Well hopefully everyone knows where we are now, the East Cowes Floating Bridge. We deliver 6 days a week to Cowes, East Cowes, Whippingham, Binstead, and north side of Newport.
Als choice of recipe is the Baked Bean Cottage Pie - Click here to see this recipe