Fans whirred loudly. The thermometer on the kitchen wall showed 90 degrees. And as John Kluse opened the oven in Bova’s Bakery in the North End to slide out three trays of Sicilian pizza, the waft of heat felt as if it could melt paint.
“This isn’t that bad,” said Kluse, whose family runs the famed 24-hour bakery. “When we have a full load of bread and the ovens are really going, it can easily be 30 degrees hotter than it is outside.”
When that happens, the temperature in the bakery goes from “horrible,” according to his co-worker Eva Djurdjevic, to “Oh, my God.”
The weather of late has brought out the best in New England’s world-class weather complainers. It has been nasty hot, and forecasters are predicting sticky temperatures in the mid- to upper-90s through Saturday.
With the region in its third heat wave of the summer, it can feel like an oven outside. But for those who spend their days working next to actual ovens, like those who man the behemoths at the pizzerias and bakeries in the North End, heat has a whole different meaning.
At Parziale’s Bakery, Aldo Parziale was cleaning after spending 10 hours baking through the night. His clothes were shades darker than when he put them on; the bandana on his head looked as if it should just be thrown away; and his face a pale shade of exhaustion and corn meal.
“If you put an AC back here, the ovens will just eat it,” he said. “I think about people who say it’s so hot they don’t want to put their little oven on. Our oven is 20 feet long and 500 degrees. We do it so you don’t have to. We take one for the team.”
Before coming to work, Parziale will cover his skin in baby powder or corn starch to keep his clothes from giving him a rash. When he’s done, he will go home, “peel my clothes off, and jump right into a really long cold shower. Even when I’m done washing, I’ll just stand under it and stand under it.”
At Pizzeria Regina, home of the oldest oven in the North End, an 1883 German-built workhorse that cooks pizzas in seven minutes, the 650-degree blast can be felt in the air-
conditioned dining room.
“Every time they open
the oven, it’s like I get slapped in the face,” said Gianna Passacantilli, who has been a bartender at the restaurant for nearly a decade. “I run and go hide by my fan.”
At Quattro on Hanover Street, Mark Cowell spends his days standing next to meat roasting on a rotisserie, a grill so hot you cannot hold your hands above it for more than a couple of seconds, and a 750-degree pizza oven.
“Here’s the secret to surviving,” he said as he reached into a refrigerator and pulled out an icy facecloth, which he dragged across his neck. “And when I go to grab something downstairs in the cooler, I make sure I take my time.”
But not everyone in the kitchens of the North End was suffering in the heat. At Modern Pastry, they have an air-conditioned kitchen. “The owner says we’re spoiled,” said Dago Ortez, one of the bakers.
But Ortez had not turned the air conditioner on. He does not like it.
“When people complain and say, ‘How can you work near an oven?’ I say this is nothing,” said Ortez, who is from El Salvador, like much of the kitchen staff. “Where we come from, it’s 90 degrees every day. When they put on the AC, we don’t feel good. We like it warm.”
If it does get too hot, there are other ways to cool down. “We go outside,” Ortez said, as the mercury climbed into the 90s. “It feels nice out there.”Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.