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Chef David Coppola’s Small Plate Menu Far From Small

For decades Coppola worked as a pizza chef at the famous Fierro’s Pizza in East Hampton, New York.

In a way, small plates aren’t all that different from giant pizzas, according to Chef David Coppola of Grand Cru Food and Wine in Wrightsville Beach.

For decades Coppola worked as a pizza chef at the famous celebrity-frequented Fierro’s Pizza in East Hampton, New York, before he and his family moved to Wilmington in 2010.

Pizza is like putting together a whole plate, Coppola explained.

There has to be a perfect foundation — crust — that is topped with fresh sauce and fresh ingredients. Orchestrating a pizza is not too far from pulling together the small plates at Grand Cru, including the truffled deviled eggs topped with caviar or the savory macaroni and cheese with chorizo and poblano peppers. The desserts on the standard menu include a limoncello raspberry cake, cheesecake and chocolate torte, but the wild card is the chef’s dessert special. Here, Coppola has created nightly and weekly dessert dishes — a baked brie and Nutella waffle or the bananas foster over pecan bread pudding.

Growing up in an Italian family in New York, one of Coppola’s greatest childhood memories is waking up to the smell of onions and garlic simmering in the kitchen on a Sunday morning.

“I would take out the middle of the Italian bread and just get a quick taste of the sauce,” he said. Until his mom yelled into the kitchen to stay out of the bread and the sauce.

Today, his own sauce, loaded with fresh herbs, appears on the Grand Cru menu, mostly as part of chef specials. In December, Coppola’s lobster ravioli was a hit. The open-faced ravioli was topped with homemade mascarpone cheese and lobster, drizzled with homemade vodka sauce.

Coppola is able to create these dishes despite the restaurant’s small kitchen, which features a small convection oven and a single cooktop. It may mean more work for Coppola, but it means every dish is cooked to order and made from scratch.

After he graduated high school, Coppola’s parents gave him a one-way ticket to Europe to learn about food. Starting in Eze, France, and moving through Madrid, Barcelona and finally Sorrento, Italy, Coppola said he cut his teeth on the basics. In Italy, he learned about pasteurizing milk, advanced dough techniques and fermenting yeast. After returning home, his parents’ friend hooked Coppola up with a job at Fierro’s where he stayed for 18 years.

In 2010, he and his wife decided they needed a change of scenery. The move brought Coppola to the region to serve as a cook at St. James Plantation. After nearly four years there he managed a local Pizza Hut, enjoying the corporate atmosphere as a change of pace and getting back to his pizza roots. But while the corporate structure was a blessing, the stress of the job seemed to be a curse.

“I was always taking the stress of the job home,” he said. He resigned a year later and took some time off to search for his next venture. “During that year off I delivered Chinese food and didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

As he searched his heart for what might fulfill him, Coppola and his wife got involved with a community group at The Bridge Church, which he said got him through a time where he was questioning his purpose.

Last summer, when Coppola answered a job advertisement for an executive chef at Grand Cru, he sent photos of his homemade dishes and creative flair.

“I never thought I would get to use my personal passion of cooking like this,” he said about Grand Cru, crediting the Lord, his family and his supportive home group at The Bridge Church for helping him realize his calling and passion.

Chef Coppola’s classic marinara sauce

Ingredients

1 onion, diced

4 cloves of garlic, diced

2 shallots, diced

2 (28 oz.) cans San Marzano tomatoes, crushed

1/2 cup burgundy wine

2 cups chopped fresh basil

1 cup fresh oregano

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper

1/2 cup of sugar

1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Instructions:

Caramelize the onion, shallots and garlic in large stock pot with tablespoon of olive oil until slightly brown. Add in crushed tomatoes and stir. Pour some water into the empty tomato can and dump into sauce pot before simmering on medium-low heat. Stir in wine, herbs, salt, pepper, sugar and cheese. Let the sauce cook on medium-low heat for eight hours.

Reporter Ashley Morris can be reached at 910-343-2096 or Ashley.Morris@starnewsonline.com

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Wilmington Wine Bar and Restaurant

Grand Cru is a wine bar and small plates restaurant located in Wilmington, North Carolina. Grand Cru offers an extensive wine menu with foods such as cured meats, global cheeses, small plates and desserts that pair well with the wine selections. Grand Cru is located in Lumina Station at 1900 Eastwood Road in Wilmington, North Carolina.

1900 Eastwood Rd • Wilmington, NC 28403
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