The first prehistoric gourmands used fires blocked with stone and probably fueled with dung. However, when it comes to the contemporary cook’s fuel of choice, celebrity chef and author Mario Batali loves wood: "It provides without a doubt the most delicious and unique flavor and is the most versatile heat source." When asked to describe his ideal flame-based cooking arrangement, he enthuses, "I would have a wood-burning oven, a wood-fired grill, and a six-burner range with a stainless steel plancha (all with natural gas)."
Open-fire cooking, also called hearth cooking, is a modern throwback to those prehistoric times. With nothing more than a standard household fireplace (or fire pit) and a few cast-iron or earthenware pots, its practitioners produce multicourse meals—from soup to dessert—the way people did before the kitchen as we know it was developed. William Rubel, in his book The Magic of Fire (2002), claims that hearth cooking offers a greater range of fire temperatures and that a more "three-dimensional" placement of the cooking vessels can produce dishes with flavors that are stronger, richer, deeper, and more striking. Stovetop or fireplace, each is a step up from the raw diet.
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