Leeds restaurants: Meet the award-winning Wood Fire Dine chef who learnt to make pizza through YouTube
12 years ago, award-winning pizza chef Mark Baber was flying around Europe with his job in golf.
He worked behind-the-scenes at the European Golf Tour, before his career took a 360 turn when he tasted a wood fire pizza during a holiday in Lake Como in Italy.
Mark and his wife Victoria bought a wood fire oven when they returned to their south Leeds home and a spark was ignited in Mark, an avid home cook who spent hours researching pizza recipes on YouTube.
Fast-forward a decade and Mark is now renowned for his pizzas at their Rothwell restaurant Wood Fire Dine.
The restaurant's journey began when Mark and Victoria visited Malton Food Festival and were asked if they could fill a slot at the next market.
Mark, 37, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “We looked at each other, smiled, turned back to the market manager and started furiously nodding.
"We had no experience. I was making all the dough by hand in tupperware boxes, we had no dough trays - just that wood fire oven in our back garden that we knew we could move around."
The demand for their pizzas quickly went through the roof.
Mark and Victoria travelled across Yorkshire for festivals, weddings and birthday parties, before opening Wood Fire Dine in Commercial Street in 2017.
“The reaction was amazing, people said they’d never tasted anything like it before," Mark said.
"We got popular really quickly."
Mark's quality dough and inventive recipes saw him shortlisted for four categories in the national PAPA awards in 2019, winning the overall prize for the UK's Pizza Chef of the Year.
It was a proud moment for the dad-of-two, who cooked his gluten and vegan pizza the 'Millennium Special' live during the event while wearing his Leeds United shirt.
Mark added: "To go on such a journey, from flying out around golf courses in Europe 12 years ago, to being the UK’s Pizza Chef of the Year, it was absolutely incredible."
Mark and Victoria live in Woodlesford with their two sons and their cocker spaniel.
The community is at the heart of their business and they wanted to improve the offering in south Leeds, which has been hit by high street closures.
Mark added: “What makes our pizza stand out is the amount of care and attention that goes into each step.
"I make all the dough, we pay a lot for our ingredients which are flown over from Naples. And we care, it's my local town."
For a business that relies on the events sector during the summer, Wood Fire Dine has taken a huge financial hit this year.
Mark has adapted his recipes to make better takeaway pizza and has recently launched dough kits for customers to create his pizzas at home, as he prepares to reopen the restaurant on May 17.
“It’s been horrific," Mark admitted.
"We've had to adapt and the support of friends and family has kept us alive.
"I know we’ve got a good product, I know we’ve got great staff and I know we can provide great service at the restaurant. And I just want to be able to do it again."
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