Q&A with Tyler Herald of Napolese

A slice of life with the gourmet pizza chef

He has free reign over the menu at Napolese, a pizza empire that grows by one more when Martha Hoover opens the restaurant’s third incarnation this month at Keystone at the Crossing. But success has not diminished chef Tyler Herald‘s sense of adventure. Here, the Portland-trained chef with the locavorian spirit reflects on his growing season.

Trisha Brand: How did you get into food?

Tyler Herald: My mom ran a bar and restaurant in Muncie. Single mom. At 14, I worked for her, washing dishes, making salads, and running the grill. My mom worked crazy hours, so when I was at home at night and wanted food, I was the one cooking it. And I’d watch Emeril in high school religiously. Every night. I’d also enjoy Frugal Gourmet and Galloping Gourmet.

TB: What were your thoughts on going to culinary school in Portland?

TH: There were 19-year-old kids who were sent by their parents. They didn’t give a care. We’d go morel hunting on the Oregon coast, and I was like, “Hell yeah.” I was always so into it. I took instructors’ advice to “look at everything and soak it in.” I’d go to the farmers markets to get involved. I discovered fiddlehead ferns and seabeans. And out there, the mushrooms were incredible.

TB: It was in Portland where you met Craig Baker of The Local Eatery & Pub, right?

TH: I’m in this job fair, and there was this big room, and all these people have these big displays with sandwich boards. Then there was this dude sitting all by himself at this table with nothing on it but a book bag. He had his feet up on the table with a pair of sandals on. I walked up to him and said, “Hey man, I need a job.” I started working for him at the now-closed La Prima Trattoria in Portland.

TB: What else did you do in Portland?

TH: I worked as a personal chef for a wealthy guy who owned a computer business. He was crazy wealthy. Then I worked for a Trailblazers basketball player. At the same time, I helped Baker open a restaurant called Echo.

TB: What brought you to Indy?

TH: By chance, I was screwing around on Monster.com in early 2005, and I applied for a chef job at 6 Lounge in Indianapolis. They flew me out for an interview, took me out for nice meals to discuss an upscale restaurant concept with a big cocktail program. It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. I’d never lived in Indy, but I did it. I was at 6 for a couple years, and then I moved to Cafe Patachou in June of 2008.

TB: Do you miss Portland?

TH: I miss Portland every day. There was food, wine, and outdoors. That was when I first really saw menus listing farms or even caring about where something came from. Out there, everybody was doing it. And that was almost 10 years ago.

TB: Do you see that happening in Indy?

TH: I think people are getting it here, too. It’s still that small sample size, but at least it is growing. Even to see the farmers markets grow is great.

TB: You’re known for being into local produce. Can you talk about that?

TH: When I got here, I started going to the farmers markets, and I started helping Steve Spencer [of Homestead Growers] play in the dirt. I’d pick and plant, all before my shift at 6. I also worked the Wednesday farmers markets downtown for a couple of years and did the Broad Ripple Farmers Market for two summers. I feel like I can make a huge, huge difference. I’m overseeing 10 restaurants. Last summer, I was buying 200 to 300 pounds of local heirloom tomatoes a week, many from Homestead Growers in Sheridan. That was just at the original Napolese. The farmer always jokes, “You funded my daughter’s wedding.”

TB: What does Patachou corporate think about it?

TH: Martha’s totally on board. She is quality over price, all day. If we can get good quality, she’s not worried about the price. My standard line with farmers is “just bring it all.” Tyler Henderson from Growing Places Indy and Tim Dorsey from Butler Campus Farm told me we bought more at Napolese than all the other restaurants combined. It was 75 percent Napolese, 25 percent everyone else. I love to be able to have the ability to do that, and to have someone who backs me—even when the local stuff is $2 more a pound. In the summertime, I’ll get it to where the entire menu is local, other than the button mushrooms. That’s the only thing we can’t get here.

TB: What about the pizza dough?

TH: Secrets! Let’s not talk about that. It’s not local, if that’s what you were asking. It’s double zero Italian flour, with a high gluten content. Our dough is a breeze to work with. On a Friday night at 49th Street—because our dough is so easy—I can stretch a pie in 15 seconds. I have to have it in the oven for 45 seconds. We can get 217 to come out in five hours. That’s my record, 217.

TB: You seem okay being out in an open kitchen. Many chefs need their designated area, their music, and their scene. Why are you okay with that?

TH: I don’t want this to come across as arrogant, but I played sports growing up. In college, I played football and golf. And I always felt like I was in the spotlight. Everyone is watching. I think there’s a certain amount of people who hate that. I mean, they hate it. You’re standing there, and everyone is watching. I kind of love it. We don’t even really talk. It’s like synchronized swimming. To be able to make all of those pies and to look out and in that dining room and see families, people on dates, and foodies all drinking wine and being happy—I would take that over being in the back over a six-burner stove any day.

TB: What are your favorite things to cook?

TH: If you knew what I ate at home, you might be shocked. I’m kind of crazy about my diet. I eat a lot of healthy food. I eat a lot of faux meat stuff—faux hamburger and faux sausage. I eat grilled cheeses with Kraft singles, and eat Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese, tacos, and spaghetti. On Sundays, I dice up my food at once, so it’s easy to cook quick meals during the week. I eat a ton of salads. So when I get home, I can have a salad in 15 minutes. I usually cook elaborate meals when I’m trying to impress someone. But for myself, when you put enough Frank’s red sauce on something, who cares?

TB: Faux meat, huh? Are you a vegetarian?

TH: I’m not, but I can’t tell you the last time I bought meat that I cooked at my house. First, I’m cheap, I admit. I’m very frugal. And secondly, I don’t buy it for health reasons. I have a lot of friends who are vegetarians. My girlfriend is a vegetarian. When I’m with a vegetarian, out of respect for them, I don’t eat meat. But at work, I taste everything.

TB: What else do you do to stay healthy?

TH: I work out seven days a week–always. It’s engrained. I just go before work. There’s a gym at the Napolese downtown, so I sometimes go twice a day. I’ll pop up for 45 minutes to do cardio.

TB: What’s the deal with all of the Brussels sprouts?

TH: When I developed the fall menu [at Napolese], I feared people would be scared of Brussels sprouts salad. So I purposely put the Brussels sprouts on the #57 pie because I knew that the chicken and the bacon would sell people. My one rule is—and the servers all know this–you can’t order the #57 without the Brussels sprouts. Can’t do it. You can get it freestyle, but it’s going to cost you $21. So that’s my little rule. And now, the Brussels sprout salad is our second–highest-selling salad. Sometimes we sell more of that than anything else.

TB: What’s missing in Indy’s dining scene?

TH: Underground supper clubs. There’s nothing like that here, and it’s a great opportunity for chefs to get their start. Also, I have not been to Amelia’s, but there are no artisanal savory bakeries anywhere. Zero. There’s run-of-the-mill bakeries. In Portland, they were everywhere. You could walk in and get focaccia, rolls, buns, and fresh baguettes. There is no place for savory rolls, like bread with fresh cracked pepper and rosemary.

For more on Tyler Herald, check out the June issue of Indianapolis Monthly, on newsstands now.