On the Line: Walter Cotta of Alegria and L'Opera, Part Two

Sitting at L'Opera, we learned it was more than a special occasion restaurant. There's no formal dress code, despite the surroundings. You could have a nice lunch without breaking the bank. The restaurant is what you want it to be, whether casual or fancy. We admit to traditionally thinking it was the latter. Don't let the white linens tell you otherwise.

Read our interview with Walter Cotta of Alegria and L'Opera, Part One.
And now, on to Part Two . . . .

Last book read or movie watched.
I'm currently reading Mozza and recently watched How to Train Your Dragon — I loved it! My wife and kids think I am like a kid because I love cartoons so much.

What's your favorite childhood memory?
Playing soccer with my neighbors and friends. I still play on Sundays.

Last song playing on your radio:
“War Pigs” by Black Sabbath.

When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
Running, exercising and hanging out with my family. I've been running since I was a little kid. I used to run 9 or 10 miles a day; now, I only do 4 or 5 first thing in the morning.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in El Salvador. While attending university, I received a visa to come to LA. I loved it here so much I've been here ever since. I eventually moved from LA to Long Beach when I got my job at L'Opera.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
When I first started running Alegria, I had a big banquet and screwed up the whole thing– from timing to food preparation. Everything. I realized my attitude about the preparation had been too lax, and from that day on, I knew I had to be as detail-oriented as possible.

Tell us about your background in the restaurant industry.
I started working at Spice in Hollywood [it's no longer open], and was extremely inspired by the chef's abilities and hard-working attitudes. I knew that would be me one day.

Last thing you looked up online:
The band the Eagles.

Do you have any skills that are non-food-related?
Running. I run about 5 miles a day. I also really enjoy drawing.

Is there something you'd like readers to know that we haven't asked?
I have been happily married to my wife for 23 years, and I have two amazing sons, ages 20 and 16.

What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I think I would be in a career that involves physics or mathematics, which is what I started studying in El Salvador.

L'Opera Ristorante is located at 101 Pine Ave, Long Beach, (562) 491-0066; www.lopera.com.

Alegria Cocina Latina is located at 115 Pine Ave, Long Beach, (562) 436-3388; www.alegriacoconalatina.com.

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