On The Line: David Coleman Of Michael's (On Naples & Pizzeria), Part One

Chefs are a beast in the kitchen. But when you sit down with them, many are rather quiet. Take executive chef David Coleman. He may have a dozen thoughts racing through his mind, but he speaks calmly and with thoughtfulness. Never mind the fact that he's linked to one of the highest rated LA restaurants on Zagat (above 22 24 in every category). Or that Coleman also maintains three pizzerias.

What came first, the restaurant or the pizzeria?
Michael's On Naples, the restaurant. The pizzeria was a natural extension of the growth from our fine dining success and the answer to a more casual dining experience, while still using the fresh, made from scratch ingredients the restaurant is known for.

What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
A well-crafted beer. I definitely love IPAs. I just had a Pale Ale that Beachwood came out with. It was amazing. This had a little lower alcohol content, but the hops were just there for a good balance, for people who don't like hops. So it really sat in the middle, which was nice.

I live in Old Towne Orange, so Hollingshead and Haven are two of my favorites. Noble Ale Works is great, too. [Editor's Note: When we asked about his proximity to Provisions Market, Coleman mentioned his wife, Amy, was responsible for their wicked shopkeeper aprons. ].


What do you recommend for first-timers?
I stand behind everything I cook. The pasta tasting allows those who are not as adventurous to step outside of their comfort zone, and has converted many to enjoy ingredients they never thought they would.

Your best food find:
I stick to seasonal cuisine when writing all my menus. This allows me to constantly rediscover new ingredients and share them with my guests.

Favorite meal growing up:
My mother cooked all of our meals when I was a child. With nine kids, she had a lot of practice. She always made me Irish stew for my birthday.

We noticed you offer party-size lasagna. Do you find the demand for it higher during certain times of the year?

Naturally, the hoildays are a little more volume, but it's definitely in high demand with the local clientele on an ongoing basis. It's a great dish for hosting a party. Homemade and delicious, and feeds quite a few guests.

Most undervalued ingredient:

Honestly, I would say a great team. I could name a lot of food ingredients, but without a loyal, dedicated front and back of the house that supports and believes in what we do, there is no ingredient I can put on your plate that will keep people coming back.

Where do you get your gelatos and sorbets from?

We make everything in-house at all four of our restaurants. Seasonal inspiration, and the individual creativeness of my kitchen staff is how we decide on the flavors.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
That's a hard question to answer. I like to explore and travel, so I rarely go to the same place twice for a specific meal. I would rather try new restaurants whenever I have extra time in my hectic schedule. Or cook at home for my family. That's a rare luxury.

Where was your most recent meal?
Chicken tikka masala my wife made. It was delicious.

What do you like on your pizza?
Depends on the season. Right now, fava beans and Calabrese with our housemade mozzarella.

How do you make mozzarella?
Great quality curd, hot water at just the right temperature, salt and the right pair of hands. It's a very simple process, really. We do 20-40 pounds per location, per day.

You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Coffee, juiced fruits and vegetables (whatever is in the fridge). And a good beer, if the day permits.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
I could write a book. Do you have chips and salsa? Can I get a fish without eyes? Could you cook my proscuitto? Any reasonable request is never denied. Reasonable is always defined by me, and it depends on what is happening in the kitchen at the time.

Favorite chef.
Any honest chef. In the restaurant world, chefs are always trying to top each other (or even themselves) and often in this race to finish, corners are cut, menu items are misleading or sometimes absolute lies. Examples would be calling something local when it's not, or claiming a product is from somewhere reputable even when it isn't.

Strangest thing you've ever eaten?
On a recent trip to Tuscany, I spent a few days in Macerleria and ate raw pork in order to taste the quality before we made salumi. That was strange.

One food you can't live without:
Foie gras. And now I want it even more because PETA doesn't want me to have it.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Just because you love to cook doesn't mean you're cut out to be a chef.

How do you feel about the influx of new pizza establishments; especially those that promote a quick-service mentality?

I think trends come and go. Everyone who does their homework has a fighting chance, and at the end of the day, only the strong will survive. An idea is only as good as the people who execute it. Quick service or slow service mean little if the pie you deliver is sub-standard.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Local craft beer scene. Growing every year. I love that there's a lot of collaboration between people. It is competitive, like anything. But people come together and share ideas.

Michael's On Naples is at 5620 E 2nd St, Long Beach, (562) 439-7080. www.michaelsonnaples.com; for Michael's Pizzeria, visit www.michaelspizzeria.com.

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