When Disney executive chairman Bob Iger required some assistance with the pizzas he makes as a hobby, he turned to Noel Brohner, a former nightclub owner who has become L.A.’s go-to dough guru. Brohner, 53, advised Iger to use gas instead of wood in his oven until he got more comfortable with controlling heat, and the media mogul’s pizzas, which he likes to top with vegetables from the garden of his Brentwood home, quickly improved. “He actually simplified the process for me rather than complicating it,” Iger says. “In doing so, he gave me more confidence. There’s a warmth about him and a generosity of spirit that I think makes you feel good about him. He’s instructional without being overly critical. I don’t have to feel like a complete and total failure. He’s not uptight, which I love.”
When A-listers like Iger or Tom Hanks want perfect at-home pies, they turn to Brohner. Top chefs like Felix’s Evan Funke and Bestia’s Ori Menashe do the same when they need a hand to realize their pizza visions. Brohner shows up with various charts and precisely measures the air and water temperatures to diagnose issues. He works on a sliding scale and sometimes gives chefs free advice, but he typically charges $300 an hour or $30,000 a month for his consulting services. His enthusiastic clients and chef friends say his flour-and-water expertise is definitely worth the dough. “I don’t think people really have an understanding of how many restaurants he has helped. He’s an unsung hero,” says Funke. “He’s completely driven by this animal: to know and understand something that is one part mysticism, one part natural engineering, and one part just completely unknown.”
“I don’t think people really have an understanding of how many restaurants he has helped. He’s an unsung hero.” —Chef Evan Funke
Brohner came to his pizza wizardry late in life. He previously co-owned the Luna Park restaurant/nightclub on North Robertson and didn’t start making pizza until he was in his forties. “I bought a book and started teaching myself, and it sucked,” he says. So he went to culinary school in New York City and immersed himself in the technical aspects of dough-making. By day, he baked baguettes and croissants in the classroom. By night, he headed to pizzerias across the five boroughs to watch the action, eventually studying with Roberto Caporuscio of Kesté, one of New York City’s most acclaimed pizzerias.
Then he returned to L.A. and took various line cook jobs and soon became known for his way with dough. When Menashe was opening Bestia in 2012 and needed help with his pizza’s sourdough starter, he called Brohner, who quickly diagnosed an issue: Bestia’s water had a different mineral content than the water Menashe was used to at his Silver Lake home. The solution was to make dough with Arrowhead water. “He walked in like the crazy mad scientist that he is,” Menashe says. “He came in, last-minute, and was able to figure it out.”
Assisting Menashe put Brohner on the map as a dough doctor, and he went on to do work for numerous restaurants, including the Rose, the Slice & Pint, and many more. Chefs around town passionately sing his praises and recommend him to one another. When he was opening his new Venice trattoria, Ospi, Jackson Kalb hired Brohner to help him craft flatbread pizzas inspired by those served at the famed Antico Forno Roscioli in Rome.
Brohner explained that Roman flatbread and what Kalb actually had in mind were quite different. Complicating things further, Kalb decided he wanted to use a pasta sheeter for dough development. “I was like, ‘All right, motherfucker,’” Brohner says good-naturedly. “I just started trying to figure out how to make the dough that I thought he wanted.”
After two test runs with different recipes, Brohner and Kalb nailed it. “He helped us every step of the way,” Kalb says, adding, “I appreciate that he’s not arrogant. He doesn’t go around saying, ‘They’re only successful because of my fucking dough.’ He knows it’s a team.”
It’s not only upscale restaurants and boldfacers who hire Brohner. In 2019, Scott Goldberg, the cofounder of Fresh Brothers, the Southern California pizza chain with 19 locations, had Brohner help improve the 20,000-plus pounds of dough his pizzerias go through each week. Goldberg wasn’t sure about changing the dough recipe he’d used for 25 years, dating back to when he made pizza in Chicago. But he admits that he heard occasional complaints about how some Fresh Brothers crusts were too cracker-like or maybe a little stale. Brohner told Goldberg it was possible to improve the texture and consistency of his tavern-style and deep-dish pizzas without changing any ingredients. “We added a little water,” Goldberg says. “We changed the order of all these things. It was like a real-live magic trick that I saw.”
Actor Eric Wareheim first met Brohner at a dinner at Antico chef Chad Colby’s house and was dazzled by the bread he’d made. Wareheim hired Brohner to cook pizzas at his wedding, and the pizza expert is now helping him with some recipes in his forthcoming cookbook. “There’s something about the way he teaches—this matter-of-fact style—that makes you really understand it,” says Wareheim.
Before the pandemic, Brohner taught in-person group classes at Surfas Culinary District in Arlington Heights. He’s now teaching via Zoom and still yielding good results, if students’ impressive pictures on Instagram are any indication. “They’re a testament in the clearest form that the ‘pizza gospel’ I’m preaching is the real deal,” Brohner says. “Chefs tell me, ‘I can’t believe your students are posting those pizzas.’ And I find myself saying over and over, ‘I know, right?’”