At Pizza Pacaya, the Oven Is an Energetic Volcano

The earthquake had already woken up Mario David García Mansilla, a Guatemalan prepare dinner, when he noticed the “balls of fireplace” flying over his home. It was the night time of Could 27, 2010, and the Pacaya Volcano was having its largest explosion in recent times. When García noticed the burning rocks flying, he did what any cheap individual would do: search for the keys of his automotive, a ‘72 Volkswagen Beetle. With the volcano’s roars flooding the panorama, he talked to a few associates and determined to choose them up. Then, he did what any unreasonable individual would do: He drove immediately in the direction of the volcano.

As they approached the erupting mountain, the sky lit up in a fiery crimson. He stopped the automotive lower than a mile (1 km) away from the volcano, he says. “The very first thing you’re feeling, it’s the extreme warmth, like going right into a sauna,” García recollects. “And the noise is sort of a seven-engine aircraft: deafening.” He wasn’t scared. Proper there, he says, is when he determined that he would by no means transfer away from the 16,000-person city of San Vicente Pacaya, one of many 21 small villages that sit on the slopes of some of the energetic volcanoes in Guatemala.

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Ten years later, he has not solely stayed, however he has fused his life with the volcano. The 34-year-old accountant and chef has develop into the primary to bake pizzas on the smoking lava of Pacaya. His unconventional restaurant, Pizza Pacaya, employs two different individuals, and it’s situated on any nook of the Pacaya scorching sufficient to bake pizzas.

Positioned in southern Guatemala, about 15 miles (24 km) south of the nation’s capital, the Pacaya is, usually talking, a “pleasant” volcano. It’s been energetic since 1961, and most of its eruptions resemble the type of slow-paced (however nonetheless probably harmful) lava flows seen in locations akin to Iceland or Hawaii. This has made the 8,200-foot volcano a preferred vacationer vacation spot, with as much as 300 individuals visiting every single day, according to Guatemalan authorities.

After the 2010 emergency, García climbed the volcano’s hillside to see “what was up there” on quite a few events. In one in every of his visits, he noticed guides giving vacationers marshmallows to roast. “That’s when one thing clicked in my head,” García says. He realized he might prepare dinner up there, merging his newfound love of volcanoes with the culinary ardour he had pursued since adolescence, in opposition to the social norms that thought-about cooking “ladies’s work.”

His first hunch was to roast steaks or braise hen. However he quickly realized that he would want to climb the volcano with too many aspect dishes on his again. As he scouted the panorama, he noticed enormous caves of drying lava populating the panorama. That’s when it hit him: What if he used the caves as pizza ovens?

García hikes down after a successful meal.
García hikes down after a profitable meal. JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP through Getty Photos

These sorts of caves kind when volcanoes erupt thick and viscous lava, explains igneous petrologist and volcanologist Hannah Shamloo. “Consider a chunky peanut butter versus water,” she says. Because the chunky-peanut-butter-like lava flows out of the volcano, it topples itself, forming constructions. At any time when gases attempt to escape it, they kind bubbles on the floor that generally don’t burst. Because the lava retains flowing, the never-busted bubble solidifies: A cave is fashioned. Beneath the insulated lava crust, the lava stays at about 1,472 levels Fahrenheit (800°C).

The primary pizza García cooked got here out fully black. A number of days later, he went again and made three pizzas with the core elements he nonetheless makes use of: tomato sauce, considerable cheese, and items of meat. After 10 minutes, one got here out fully burnt, however the different two got here out properly: golden crust, melty cheese. When he ate these, “I believed, ‘Wow! That is gold what I’ve in my palms!’” he says.

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Nonetheless, it was solely in 2019 that he formally began a enterprise on the high of the Pacaya Volcano. Since then, García has visited the volcano virtually day by day. Sporting protecting gear, military-style boots, and a backpack containing some 60 kilos of apparatus and elements, he bakes pizza, normally for patrons who made reservations. When lava began flowing from a newly fashioned fissure in late April, he began cooking immediately over the still-melted rocks. “After I do it this manner, once I return house on the finish of the day, I’ve to place my toes in salted water,” he says. “The warmth is just too excessive.”

García is certainly not the primary individual to prepare dinner stuff over volcanic lava. Making something from espressos to frying eggs is nearly “a ceremony of passage amongst volcanologists,” says Shamloo, who works at Oregon State College. García is, nevertheless, among the many first to translate this interest right into a worthwhile enterprise.

“There comes a day for each prepare dinner whenever you need to really feel fulfilled with your self,” García says. “You really need the diner to say, ‘Wow, that’s spectacular.’” With Pizza Pacaya, he says, he seems like he’s reached that summit.

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