i Courtyard Cooking

Courtyard Cooking

from Outdoor Style
This outdoor kitchen design is ideal for cooking and entertaining, as well as relaxing.
Listening to Matt Holcomb discuss his outdoor kitchen’s appliances is akin to listening to audiophiles talk about their stereo systems. The surgeon, whose home is now one of the best places to dine in Longview, Texas, can tick off BTU's and degrees-reached-in-X-minutes the way stereo lovers can name decibels and watts per channel.

As part of his food love affair, Matt had coveted a new appliance — a wood-fired brick oven. But, as his wife, Kim, pointed out, there wasn’t room for it in their home’s 10 x 12-foot kitchen. That’s when the idea of an outdoor kitchen was cooked up. The couple looked to an underutilized courtyard on the side of their home as their solution. With the help of friend and designer Glendon C. Berry, they transformed the courtyard into an outdoor kitchen with enough space for Matt to grill, bake, or stir-fry, and for friends and family to savor his creations.

Matt’s tools for creating center on the wood-fired brick oven, three propane burners for boiling and deep frying, a gas grill with rotisserie, a gas side burner, a granite counter, and stainless-steel storage space. Berry designed a plan that settled all of these items comfortably in the large, 30 x 50 feet space with plenty of à la carte amenities, including a fireplace for warmth and charm, a pergola for shade, and a fountain for its soothing sound.

“People do a lot of living in the kitchen, at least we do,” Matt says. “The outdoor kitchen, the patio, that’s cooking stuff, but it’s a living space. That’s what it really is.”

What prompted the courtyard-to-kitchen makeover took place at a small hotel and restaurant in the Tuscan hills 30 miles outside Florence, Italy. There, in a courtyard teeming with the spirit of the building’s 14th-century origins, Matt and Kim savored the hot and crispy crust of a thin pizza pulled straight from a wood-fired brick oven. The pizza’s unforgettable flavor was the result of
intense heat created by the oven’s wood fire and retained by its brick walls.

These ovens, which also can have walls of clay or tile, cook quickly, giving foods a crisp shell while keeping the insides moist. But firing up a wood-fired oven is a centuries-old tradition that doesn’t easily fit into a 60-minute-timer world: It requires an hour or two to heat before the baking can begin.

“It’s not an electric oven, where you put something in and don’t worry about it,” Matt says. “But that’s also the joy of it. You experiment. If I put this stick in the fire and come back in an hour, what will happen?”

Because of the oven’s time requirements, Matt more frequently uses the propane gas burners. At 130,000 BTU's, they can boil a 40-quart pot of water in 10 minutes. For his birthday one year, Matt boiled enough crab and shrimp to feed 75 friends, as well as prepared a speckled trout fillet with a beurre noisette sauce—something he never could have done in their indoor kitchen.

For all of its 21st-century kitchenware, the outdoor space blends well into the Holcombs’ 1930 French country home. Playing off the brick house, designer Berry set the appliances under brick arches, which give the space an old-world aura while protecting the chef’s tools from the elements.

The outdoor kitchen solved another hosting dilemma for the Holcombs: lack of space. Berry ensured the sizable outdoor kitchen always remains hospitable by shielding it from the most dominant of central Texas’ elements — the sun — with a 12-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide pergola. Two ceiling fans and three natural gas heaters mounted beneath the arbor cool and heat the courtyard.

Homey touches add to the kitchen’s friendly ambience. On the walls underneath the arches, friend Alex Waltrip painted pictures of cozy pantry items — shelves of cheeses and meats, and bottles of wine labeled with the names of vintages the couple love or places that are special to them. Their rocking chair collection attracts guests as quickly as the smell of fresh-baked pizza.

“Rocking is an old East Texas tradition,” Matt says. “And we’re trying to keep it alive.”

What has surprised the Holcombs the most is that although the purpose of the $70,000 outdoor kitchen was to provide a space for lavish cooking and entertaining, it turned out to be just as comfortable for quiet family meals and playing with their 4-year-old daughter, Addison.

“It’s so enjoyable to have another space for entertaining,” Kim says. “Matt is such a good cook that it’s nice to stay home and have people over. But it’s also great just for entertaining ourselves.”

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