Chef Q&A: Samuele Pricoco of Cecconi’s
Chef Samuele serves up delicious Italian fare in West Hollywood.
Chef Samuele Pricoco worked as a chef in Italy, London, and the Netherlands before taking the helm as executive chef of Cecconi’s West Hollywood.
The modern Italian restaurant opened in February 2009 and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Hand-made pastas, wood-oven pizzas and breakfast staples (like ricotta hotcakes!) continue to make this restaurant the place to see and be seen.
We visited Chef Samuele to discuss his Italian roots, cooking techniques, and his passion for truffles.
What is unique about the restaurant & the dishes you serve?
At Cecconi’s, we serve Northern Italian-influenced dishes with a particular focus on cicchetti, or Venetian tapas. These shareable dishes include zucchini fritti with lemon aioli, whipped ricotta and truffle honey with crostini and meatballs with tomato and basil. Another signature element of the Cecconi’s experience is our table-side service. We carve off-menu, large format steaks like tomahawk and rib-eye, filet Dover sole and assemble our classic tuna tartare right at the table, to ensure the highest quality and flavor for our guests.
What’s your earliest memory of cooking?
My earliest memory of cooking is with my mom when I was a kid. She was always making fresh pasta and pizza at home. She made the dough from scratch and spent so much time rolling and kneading. I remember watching the pizza bake in the oven, the crust blistering and cheese bubbling, and it blew my mind. Even before it reached the oven, I would watch the dough rest on the countertop and slowly rise – I found it fascinating.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a chef?
I realized I wanted to be a chef at 13 years old. I was working in a kitchen washing dishes and I saw the chef cooking. He was teaching the others, discussing why he used certain techniques and which ingredients paired well together. I wanted to grow up and be like him.
What’s your specialty dish?
I love to cook seafood, especially fish and scallops. With scallops, I prefer to keep the preparation simple. I pan sear the scallops, then finish them with lemon juice, capers and a pomegranate sauce, which allows their natural flavor to shine through while lending a touch of brightness.
It’s your off day and you’re feeling lazy, what do you prepare at home?
I don’t like to eat by myself! But if I’m cooking just for me, it’s always fish. My favorite is lightly seared branzino with a side of couscous and a green salad. It’s so simple, but so delicious.
You have 4 friends coming over for dinner, what’s on the menu?
For a dinner party, I greet my guests with appetizers as soon as they arrive, like a selection of Italian charcuterie and cheese. I’d then serve spaghetti frutti di mare with clams, mussels, squid and shrimp tossed in white wine sauce, making sure to use the juice of the seafood to add flavor. In colder months, I may sub the pasta for a creamy risotto with porcini mushrooms.
After we’ve devoured the pasta, I’d serve a plate of saltimbocca, or thinly sliced veal wrapped in sage and prosciutto, for everyone to share. I always serve saltimbocca with a side of polenta, as it’s the traditional pairing in my hometown of Bergamo in Northern Italy.
To end with something sweet, I like to put my own twist on a simple dessert, like baked fruit topped with a scoop of ice cream. I change it up with the season – could be pineapple with coconut ice cream in the summer or apples topped with cinnamon ice cream for autumn.
What’s your favorite dish at the restaurant?
The lobster spaghetti – it’s a classic and so delicious, served with pasta we make in-house and poached Maine lobster tossed in bisque and sprinkled with saffron.
What dish would you like to add to your restaurant’s menu?
I can’t wait to go crazy with white truffles which are starting to come in season. Right now we’re offering whipped ricotta and egg yolk raviolo with butter, parmesan and shaved white truffles on top. Guests can order it as a special, but I want it to be on the menu full time.
How has being in the Los Angeles area challenged you as a chef?
Living in Los Angeles has certainly helped me grow as a chef. In California, we’re blessed to have this abundance of produce all year round. The challenge really is how to let those ingredients shine on their own while still offering guests something creative and unexpected. For example, one of my favorite dishes is the crudité, which is simply raw vegetables served alongside an avocado chickpea dip. It’s so representative of how we eat in LA – healthy, ingredient-focused, but full of flavor.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
I’d be a DJ with my brother, who is already in the business. My family is big on music.
What would you say is the importance of food in our culture?
It all comes down to the ingredients. It’s amazing how much you learn at the farmers’ market – everything from which vegetables are in season to how to pick out the best avocado. Sometimes we overcomplicate food. People sometimes ask me, “how do you know when this certain fruit is ripe?” I tell them to smell it. It’s that simple! Our culture is shaped by food and the more interaction we have with the people who grow it, the smarter and healthier we are. My mom always said money is well invested in your food and on your mattress. Don’t cheap on what you eat or where you sleep!
How has being in California shaped your food sourcing practices?
At Cecconi’s, we marry the very best local and seasonal ingredients with traditional Italian flavors and techniques. This is actually the traditional Italian way – to take advantage of what is fresh and seasonal – and there’s no better place to do that than in Southern California. We source so much of our produce from local markets and purveyors, and it actually allows us to experiment with different ingredients all year round. We don’t feel confined to only serve beets in the winter or peaches in the summer – we source what grows naturally in our backyard, then put our own twist on it.