Enlightened Pies

Appears in the August 2023 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Embracing the poetry—and science—of pizza

Dan Coudreaut (far right) and his family on opening day
Dan Coudreaut (far right) and his family on opening day

Ask any self-respecting pizzaiola why Neapolitan chefs still make the best pizzas on the planet, and they’re bound to conceal their secrets in purposely opaque lines of romantic poetry. Question: When’s a pizza dough ready for the oven? Answer: When it smiles back at you. Or, better yet, when the gluten caresses your fingertips like a tender goodnight kiss.

Back in 2017, when Dan Coudreaut, owner of Lantern Pizza Co. in Downers Grove, spent a month mentoring under legendary Neapolitan pizza-makers, he received plenty of advice—some practical, some delivered in Italian verse. Whole days were spent deconstructing hydration levels in pizza doughs. There were wood-burning-oven tutorials. And hands-on colloquiums on the proper way to “cheese” a pizza. But when he posed the question, “What’s the most important ingredient in the pizza-making process?” he received the most Italian answer possible. His pizzaiola pushed his finger against Coudreaut’s chest and said, “It’s you.”

A pizza

And in that moment, Coudreaut was liberated, as he’d previously spent a major portion of his career running McDonald’s Culinary Innovation Center. (Name any McDonald’s product that debuted between 2004 and 2017, and he likely had hand in it.) His philosophy is simple: Great food has to taste fresh. Every single time you serve it. No exceptions. Which is why he cooks like a baker. Very systematic. Careful measurements. Always in grams. And always with fresh ingredients. In the belief that good cooking demands repeatable results. “I guess I’m just a freshness freak,” says Coudreaut, who built his open kitchen to allow customers to watch every step of his pizza-making process.

Which might explain why his Neapolitan pizzas have generated such buzz with local pizza aficionados. He blends Old-World techniques with New World food science rigor. Even though he was told to use 00 flour (a finely ground Italian flour) for his dough, his own experiments revealed that domestic flour, massaged with a shot of olive oil, yielded the “best chew possible.” He ladles his pizzas with a raw pizza sauce—milled California tomatoes blended with a basil-steeped olive oil. And even makes his own mozzarella in house, from Wisconsin curds, because he wants an undercurrent of fresh-churned cream to seep through the sauce and into the crust.

Toppings are simple. Sausage, peppers, mushroom, etc. So that the holy trinity of any pizza—dough, tomato, cheese—retain their starring role. “To see a family with a young child come in, looking so excited and happy…there’s nothing like it,” says Coudreaut, who runs his shop with his wife, Kim, and two children. “It’s proof that food really can bring us all closer together.”


Photos: Lantern Pizza Co.