Paul Hibler is one busy man. The gregarious guy behind Costa Mesa's bustling Pitfire Pizza was constantly on the go. However, he managed to produce a well-thought-out chef questionnaire. Among other things, Hibler is the umpteenth person to extol the precious culinary scene in Portland
ia. He also manages to make us hungry discussing his menu.
Your earliest food memory:
Watching my Portuguese mother, grandmother and great aunt make Easter sweet bread, arguing about whose recipe is better.
Where does the Pitfire originate from?
When we first started Pitfire, we grilled the pizzas over a mesquite fire.
How would you describe the type of pizza served?
Our pizza has strong culinary roots in the California/San Francisco tradition. Our dough is handled much like the great French bread bakers handle their dough. We believe the crust should be more than just a holder for toppings.
What is your most popular item?
The Burrata Pizza.
What do you like on your pizza?
I like pizzas with just a few items on them. The more toppings you pile on, the less balanced the pie is. My favorite is the Heirloom Tomato Pie. We only get to have it during tomato season, so I really appreciate it when it comes around.
What is your beverage of choice, and where do you get it?
I love a great pale ale. My current favorite is from Strand Brewery.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Your best recent food find:
The charcuterie at Olympic Provisions in Portland.
Most undervalued ingredient:
One food you can't live without.
Ok. Gotta be my morning coffee from Deus ex Machina Cafe in Venice. They use Handsome Coffee.
Do you think having a full beverage license (as opposed to just beer and wine) makes a difference?
This is our first store with full liquor. We are finding that our customers appreciate it. The trick is to design the cocktails to match our food.
What are your favorites on the menu?
The Farmers Market Plate, Meatballs, Bolognese Linguini and the Brussels Sprouts Pizza.
What is the most requested pizza in Costa Mesa?
Be An Artist. The Mesa crew likes to design their own. But over time, they will discover that the pizzas we design are pretty cool as well.
Strangest thing you've ever eaten:
Deep fried ants with chocolate mole.
This changes all the time, but right now, my favorite chef is Naomi Pomeroy from Beast in Portland. She is a beautiful person making soulful food in the coolest little restaurant I have ever seen.
Where was your most recent meal?
I hosted a meal at Superba Snack Bar in Venice. We shared grilled watermelon salad with fried bao, cauliflower t-bone, Superba fried chicken and smoked bucatini carbonara.
Best tip for the home cook:
Cook more often and involve your friends and family. Time flies.
What did former president Clinton like to order?
President Clinton hosted fundraisers where they kept an open chair at every table to sit in during the night. He never ate during the banquet. We would always be waiting in a private room with some of his favorites: mac 'n cheese, corn dogs (yes, corn dogs), fried chicken and various other Southern staples. The dude was from Arkansas, after all.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
East Borough, Tasting Kitchen, Taco Superica, Bear Flag Market.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Two farm Maricona eggs (over easy), a piece of hearty country bread, some braised greens, seasonal veggies and coffee.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
For a Johnny Depp movie we had to rappel an entire meal for 150 down the side of a cliff to a beach that had no road access.
Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make?
I am learning how to make Japanese izakaya and ramen. Humbling.