ELLSWORTH — Cast aside that precarious kettle-shaped grill that only allows you to barbecue a few steaks and burgers at a time.
All the cool folks, at least the ones who work at Jeff and Diane Kelly-Lokocz’s 86 This!, the city’s burrito institution on Main Street, are cooking outdoors on a chapa.
An Argentinean term, a chapa is similar to a cast-iron griddle only it has legs so it can be set over an open fire.
“There’s something really like primal about cooking food over fire and the chapa is a really great vessel for that,” said chef and farmer Kathryn Courant, who manages 86 This!
Tyler Hull of Ellsworth started the local chapa craze when he got married in 2017. Hull wanted to give a chapa as a gift to another friend who had helped cater his wedding. (The wedding feast included a whole roasted goat.) He credits Argentine chef Francis Mallman as the inspiration for the gift. Mallmann was featured in Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” series (Season 1).
Hull and his friend both had read Mallman’s book, “Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way.” The celebrity chef, author and restaurateur is known for his deftness and creativity at cooking over an open fire.
In the book, a chapa is listed as one of the seven methods of cooking over fire. In case you’re wondering, a few of the others include a cauldron and a clay oven.
Hull enlisted Ellsworth blacksmith Adriaan Gerber to forge one. The two work together at 86 This!
Gerber fashions his chapas, which weigh about 40 pounds, out of stainless steel. He estimates the cooking surface is around 4 square feet — 2 by 2 feet. Gerber creates hollow legs so one person can carry the chapa.
Hull described a chapa as “like having a giant cast iron skillet.”
“You can create different zones of heat so you can cook lots of different things at once,” said Hull. “It’s big enough you can load it up without dropping the temperature a lot. It’s really adaptable.”
Gerber said his chapas feature a 1/38-inch-thick steel plate, which provides an even cooking temperature. “It’s very stable, the heat,” he said.
Another bonus, no waiting around for coals.
“You can feed a whole bunch of people,” said Courant, who hired Gerber to make two chapas, including one for Hull as a thank you for helping her cater her 2018 wedding.
“Catering your own wedding is a crazy idea,” Courant said, “But, the chapas saved the day.”
Courant had planned to serve her guests kalua pork, or Hawaiian-style in which a “massive fire” is built on top of which you bury a whole pig and let it roast all day.
When the pig was pulled out, it was only partially cooked. So, the cooks cut up the pig and finished cooking it on the two chapas.
One of the chapas Gerber made features grill grates, giving the meat lovely sear marks.
“You can cook any type of meat with them,” she said.
But it doesn’t have to be meat.
“We’ll just sear vegetables,” said Courant. “You can get a really beautiful caramelization on onions. It’s a really great way to cook simple food.”
The newlywed said one of her favorite foods to cook on a chapas is maitake mushrooms — also known as hen-of-the-woods.
Courant made her own wedding cake, a three-tier Persian Love Cake, which is an almond cake made with rosewater, pistachios and honey.
Hull said he usually cooks meat on his but he’s also roasted pineapples.
Gerber has made other cooking accoutrements and is looking to make other tools for people.
“I made Tyler a skillet and I made a couple of chef’s knives,” Gerber said. “I make it out of carbon steel so that’s better than what you can buy.”
Gerber buys steel from a supplier in Brewer.
“I’m looking for weird things to build,” the blacksmith said.
Sometimes, the blacksmith will sketch an idea before creating it or look at pictures.
“I spend a lot of time figuring in my mind and then build the thing,” he said.
Gerber, who hails from Capetown, South Africa, said food there involves “a lot of meat,” much of it is cooked outside over fire.
“You show up before the fire has been started and stand around,” Gerber said. “It’s very social.”
To contact Gerber, call or text him at 812-2143.