Charlie Ovens INTERVIEW
The journey of Tara & Neil creating Charlie Ovens the British made Luxury Outdoor Oven
This week we sat down with the Tara and Neil the founders of quite possibly the best outdoor oven, all handcrafted in Britain.
SGB: Hello Tara and Neil, thank you for taking the time to agree to do a Meet the Maker Interview. So first things first, how did the idea of Charlie Ovens come about.
Tara & Neil: We stumbled upon the idea during Lockdown. We'd bought a commercial charcoal oven so that we could make bread in an oven hotter than our domestic oven. I'm (Tara) a keen baker, and I was searching for the perfect crumb. That is the open-hole texture you get in lovely, light, airy bread. During Lockdown, we cooked constantly. One day we bought some fantastic Seabream, mussels and prawns, and we decided to try our oven out to cook the food. We couldn't believe the results; it felt like we were at a Greek taverna by the sea! The smoky flavour was unreal! We couldn't believe how easy it was to use and how the flavour of charcoal came through so strongly in the food. It tasted like something we'd get in a restaurant, but we'd done it ourselves with minimal effort or skill! We tried many other foods with similar success. It was a surprise that something so great and used in professional kitchens hadn't made it to a version for home use.
SGB: And how did the name Charlie Ovens stick?
Tara & Neil: It was a combination of charcoal and the desire to have a name with human characteristics. Tara's sister is called Charlotte, and when you shorten it to Charlie, it works for men and women. Charlie = charring/charcoal. It felt right for us.
SGB: How did the love of bread making turn into an engineering project, and was it a daunting task?
Tara & Neil: Yes and no. Lockdown played a part in taking away the risk. The whole world was upside down, and it was a time to reflect on what we enjoyed doing. At the time, Tara was working for a start-up new crisps brand. She worked with a boutique engineering company specialising in bespoke food manufacturing design and build. Tara asked them to help design and build the Charlie oven. They provided in-depth expertise, and we provided the design aesthetics and the features we wanted. Both Neil and I are creative, visual foodies. We knew what we wanted to achieve. Our new oven worked on the same principles as the commercial oven that inspired us but looked fantastic and had lots of alternations to make it work better as a smoker and a pizza oven. In many ways, the scary bit came afterwards when we realised we had a product that people wanted. Then it was a challenge to find the perfect manufacturing partner for more significant production runs and to get out and about showing off Charlie to potential customers. When you have a product that you genuinely believe in. And customers' feedback that they think your product is excellent. It removes some fear and motivates you to work harder to get the brand out there.
SGB: Was it a lengthy development process or did you have a good idea what you wanted from the start?
Tara & Neil: It took us six months to make the first one. We've made some adjustments since launching but only very minor things. We were lucky to have design experts involved early on in the process. We're working on exciting new product developments for Spring 2023, extending our range and adding new accessories.
SGB: Charlie Ovens are proudly Made in Britain, was that an important factor?
Tara & Neil: Yes, for sure. The Charlie Oven is an entirely new way of cooking outside. It's a purchase for life. It's not like a BBQ made of light metal and produced thousands of miles away. Charlie is a substantial piece of kit. We wanted to ensure the quality and manufacture in small quantities. Designing and building in Britain is a mark of quality.
SGB: And how are they made, are they all handcrafted?
Tara & Neil: Our products are handmade with the use of bending and welding equipment. There is a lot of fine welding on each oven to make it airtight and create a smooth finish—all the hardware of milled solid stainless steel. The paintwork is done by hand as well to ensure the perfect finish.
SGB: Charlie Ovens are not only engineered beautifully but they look beautiful too, why are the aesthetics important to you too?
Tara & Neil: About four years ago, we redesigned our garden. We created a lovely dining area, a seating area with a fire pit and lots of attractive planting. The big dilemma we had was where to put our BBQ? It didn't match our beautiful garden, so we hid it behind a bush. We wanted Charlie to be a thing of beauty in the garden, a design feature people feel proud to display. And with the option of a beautiful colour palette to match their design.
SGB: We certainly think they are very special but what do you think makes Charlie Ovens so special?
Tara & Neil: What makes Charlie unique is that it's an oven you use outside using lump wood charcoal. So it's multifunctional - a BBQ, a smoker, a pizza oven and a regular oven all in one. It's incredibly fuel efficient and can hold constant temperatures for long periods without needing more fuel. In addition, it's well insulated so that all the heat is retained in the oven. And the outside never gets too hot to touch. It's for use all year round. It's designed to be mainly used with the door closed. Like an oven, you can walk away and leave Charlie to do the hard work. The oven is two and a half times the size of a standard domestic oven. It can cook a whole meal at once or bake three pizzas at once. Its capacity and hands-off cooking style make it so effortless to use.
SGB: Apart from bread, what do you love to cook in your Charlie Oven?
Tara & Neil: So many things! I love to steak, and I love to smoke food. I love to smoke a leg of lamb with a bit of oak wood and some bay leaves thrown onto the flames. Vegetables are delicious when cooked over charcoal.
SGB: Do you think that outdoor cooking and large family get togethers are making a huge comeback due to the pandemic restrictions?
Tars & Neil: Entertaining family and friends at home is a growing trend. Our customers love to entertain. Charlie makes light work of the food for sure.
SGB: Thank you Tara and Neil, one last question Is there anything exciting on the horizon for Charlie Ovens that you can let SGB in on?
Tara & Neil: We have some big plans for 2023. We're bringing out a tabletop version of our oven, which works well with outdoor kitchens. It's smaller than the freestanding Charlie Oven, but it works well within the footprint of an outdoor kitchen design. We're also planning some new accessories later this year.
If you fancy cooking up a storm for family and friend in your garden then you can explore the Charlie Oven range below. They will certainly wow them with their style and the flavours that will undoubtedly be created.