M.J. Coe Dishes on the Weirdest Thing He Couldn't Eat and the Death of Cupcake Wars
M.J. Coe Tammie Coe Cakes and MJ Bread 610 E. Roosevelt St., No. 145 Phoenix, 85004
Federal Pizza 5210 N. Central Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85012
See Also: Aaron Chamberlin Dishes on (Not) Being a Celebrity Chef and the Hype Around St. Francis When It Opened Steven "Chops" Smith Dishes on the Weirdest Thing He Ever Ate (It Smells Bad) and Why He Loves Japanese Cuisine
This is part one of our interview with M.J. Coe, baking mastermind behind MJ Bread and the wood-fired pies at Federal Pizza. Check back on Tuesday to find out more about this culinary celebrity including his thoughts on Wonder Bread and what ranks number one on his baking playlist (hint: it's one sweet soundtrack).
Federal Pizza on Central
MJ Coe discovered his passion for food at an early age. At 17 he left school and by 20 he was running his first restaurant, a French and Italian spot based in a hotel. From there he went to culinary school in Providence, Rhode Island where he met his wife Tammie Coe, a baker who shares equal celebrity status for her cakes and pastries.
It's a sweet story that starts out with a young MJ being locked out of his dorm down the hall from Tammie and continues 20 years later to them living together above a shared bakery in Downtown Phoenix. And while you'd think that they eat leftover cake and pastries from downstairs every night, in reality you're more likely to find them noshing on Little Debbie cinnamon rolls while chilling out on the couch. Despite their culinary fame, this couple likes to lay low.
After acquiring a large amount of success at a young age, MJ Coe has found himself steering away from all the PR and interviews. He admits that he is not a big people person and playfully adds that his biggest fear at parties is a Scottsdale Kiss (basically a superficial attempt at a European hello).
Pizza dough at Federal
It's a bit ironic that M.J. has chosen baking bread as his craft because he's actually allergic to flour. I ask him how he manages this and he shrugs it off, saying its simply a matter of constantly washing and cleaning his arms and hands.
He's fascinated by the very scientific approach to making bread and loves to solve problems. He applies his troubleshooting skills to almost every aspect of life, from reverse engineering bread for the Food Network to restoring vintage Vespas in his garage.
His involvement with Federal Pizza, which opened October 22 of this year, shouldn't come as much of a surprise as he's known Craig and Kris DeMarco professionally and personally for 10 years. When asked how he approached his new role as pizza maker at Federal, MJ says: "there are two ways to do pizza: one from the culinary standpoint of what goes on the pizza; and two, from the baker point of view which is the quality of the bread. For me bread is the most important thing."
Five words to describe MJ Bread or Federal Pizza: Simplistic, balanced, confident, ideal, and anticipated.
Favorite food smell: Grilled Italian sausage sandwich with roasted peppers and onions
Five words to describe you: Persnickety complex, simple, reclusive, inquisitive
Favorite cookbook and why: The Italian Baker by Carol Fields. It's one woman's simple record of bread through the course of baking in Italy. It's rustic and homey.
I think it's safe to say your favorite thing to work with is bread, but why? Bread is so simple. It's the first thing to arrive at the table and the last thing to be taken away. Once you learn the cause and effect of ingredients you can basically tailor the dough's taste, texture, color, all of it. And to me the manipulation of that is just - I don't want to say it's a God complex, but to have control over something like that versus someone in culinary handling a protein, there are just a lot more variable to making bread.
Most over-rated ingredient: I don't think there's an overrated ingredient, just the context it's used in. I think when people try to pile up too many ingredients that can become alarming. It's just like an explosion of flavors.
Most under-rated ingredient: Salt. Salt balances everything. It controls everything. Without salt you have utter collapse in baking and pastry. In the culinary world people don't understand a lot of what salt does. I've been wanting to try salt water because they say it has the perfect salinity.
Trend you like: I'm really big on simplicity and not over-complicating things.
Dish/trend or catch-phrase you wish would go away and why: Food Network competition shows. I wish all those would shrivel up and die. Cupcake Wars? Please. Such a joke. It's just so unrealistic.
But you do watch Food Network?
I watch all kinds of things. I'll watch Honey Boo Boo. It makes me appreciate what I have- on the other hand, "what is that mother thinking?!"
Your favorite cuisine and why: Sushi because it's clean and minimalist.
Weirdest thing you ever ate: The one thing I just couldn't get down my throat was a sea bass sperm sack. I just couldn't do it. It had this weird velvety texture and texture is a deciding factor for me.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles
Note: This post was edited from its original version.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.