Chef News

MJ Coe Dishes on His Love of Wonder Bread and Baking to the Willy Wonka Soundtrack

This is part two of our interview with MJ Coe, the bread and butter behind MJ Bread and creative genius behind the wood-fired creations at Federal Pizza. To find out the weirdest thing that MJ ate (or rather, couldn't eat) and where his hatred of Cupcake Wars stems from, check out part one of the interview.

See Also: Tastemakers 2012- 97: MJ Coe

What are the hours for a baker who's also a small-business owner?

It's a blatant disregard for sleep. There have been nights where I get a call at 2 a.m. because our mixer isn't working and I have no idea how to do electrical work. Electrical scares the Hell out of me but it needs to be fixed. So you look at the puzzle, find a solution, and fix it.

And what's the biggest challenge (besides operating on no sleep)? I think the big battle you face as a small business owner is you're either an artist or an entrepreneur. It's a constant back and forth. The business side is something you always have to learn. And I don't care who the person is, you can't wear both caps. If you try to juggle both at the same time, one side always suffers. especially when you grow with multiple locations

If I weren't baking I'd be...: I'd love to go into physics, astronomy, math. I love to solve problems. I've been trying to take my Mensa test for the last couple of months. Last three test dates I had to cancel because of work.

What's on your baking playlist? I have everything, man; from Rachmaninov to hardcore rap to the Muppets. My favorite thing to listen to when I'm working is the Willy Wonka soundtrack with Gene Wilder singing -- it's fantastic.

One of the biggest misconceptions about you: We're [MJ and Tammie Coe] not big foodie people. A lot of people have this misconceived idea that we go out and eat foie gras all the time. But we'll just go to Pino's Pizza for a to-go box of spaghetti and meatballs to eat on the sofa watching TMZ.

So you're kind of over all that over-the-top food...: I just I love simple things. I love Wonder Bread. Wonder Bread with American cheese in a grilled cheese sandwich? You're living like a rock star, man. And if someone uses cheddar -- urgh, it just riles me. Because it's not what I grew up with.

Your advice for now and future chefs? Don't just get into this business looking for fame, it will always comes back to slap you in the face. I mean it's good to have that success but it's not a driving force. Loving what you do is what pushes you. Don't lose sight on why you got into the field in the first place.

What's a big mistake you see happening in the food industry? I think people that poach ideas, and copy product and push it off as their own is really weak, unprofessional, and pathetic. You're in a field where there are so many avenues for creativity, so get creative, be original. Be professional.

To me food should be: Food is supposed to comfort. For instance the other night, Tammie and I went out, and we got a soft pretzel and they had some canned gravy to dip it in and it was was just so damn good. They also had Cheez Whiz.

Cheez Whiz? That takes me back to my childhood... Isn't that what food is supposed to do? Food should stir emotions, be a catalyst for conversations, and recall memories. If you can do that, as a chef, that's success right there.

Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from that person: I can't just pin point one mentor, For the production and creativity side, I've worked with a bunch of old school / old time bakers, their hands where like a bunch of bananas, and if you stepped outta line, you would get a smack upside your head. Discipline was learned. As for the business end, Rich Melman from Lettuce Entertain You in Chicago. He has taught me how to look for solutions to problems, and how to expand my thought process while looking at my business from an customer's standpoint.

Last meal on earth: Hands down: Los Dos Molinos' red chili burrito (enchilada style) with rice and beans

What should be written on your head stone?: Why not?

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza 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

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Katie Johnson
Contact: Katie Johnson