Meet Elizabeth McCoy, the Princess of Pasta
Elizabeth McCoy, the new Executive Chef at Prince of Venice, reveals pasta secrets and her favorite pasta spots in town. Plus, you can win two tickets to her next pop-up pasta dinner!
Elizabeth McCoy is the new Executive Chef at Prince of Venice, the food truck that has delighted Los Angeles with fresh pasta since last summer. We interviewed her when she was directing the pasta program at All’Acqua. Previously, she had worked at The Ponte, Faith and Flower, Otium, Miro etc.
As they prepare to their first brick-and-mortar location, Prince of Venice and Chef McCoy are organizing exclusive pop-up dinners, complete with wine pairings, where you can try a bit of what’s to come. And yes, there’s a real Italian prince behind Prince of Venice and we interviewed him here.
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Elizabeth McCoy: A Passion for Pasta
1) Why pasta?
Funny that you asked… I originally got my degree in Classics & Ancient Civilizations, so I spent most of my time studying ancient Italy and ancient Greece with a huge emphasis on the daily life of ancient Romans. You know, the cooking, the rituals, the traditions, the religion, and things like that. But I had always wanted to cook, as long as I can remember. And then there was my nonno, Paul Hickey, who owned two restaurants in his lifetime, a couple of diners. He was a WWII veteran, a big damn hero. He was one of the best cooks on the planet. He died when I was very little. I have a tattoo of one of the coffee spoons from his diner with a T.S. Eliot quote on it. He always meant the world to me. He is a big reason I looked at a career in food and dining.
2) Where are you from?
I was born and raised in L.A. Everyone seems to think I’m from New York, I dunno why. My parents are from the Midwest, but I was born and raised here. I was raised by a feminist mom who taught me not to take s**t from anybody and to be very upfront about everything. My mom grew up expediting and working the line with my grandpa when she was a little kid—it’s how she spent time with him. My dad had a background as an Italian chef for a little bit.
RELATED: The Fresh Pasta Test: Ralphs vs Trader Joes
3) How did you start?
I started as a line cook, in a vegan restaurant, of all things, just wanting to learn stuff. Then I got hired at another restaurant as a prep cook. I gave up a $30 an hour job in the tech industry, thank God, to work for $10 an hour as a prep cook and I’ve never been happier. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I decided to buy a pasta sheeter, just a little hand-crank sheeter, I got it for my birthday back in 2014. I made a really crappy dough and some really crappy fettuccine. I had nowhere to put it, so I grabbed a coat hanger and draped the pasta over that on top of the fuse box in my kitchen. I looked at it and said, “I have to put this on Instagram.”
4) Then what happened?
The next thing I knew, Bruce Kalman from Union had commented on it, saying, “Want to come and learn how to make pasta with us? We’re accepting stages.” So, I had a stage. When I showed up at Union, they handed me this little wooden board with ridges, which I now know is a gnocchi paddle. They taught me how to wrap the dough around a wooden dowel and roll the dough. The minute I rolled my first piece of garganelli, I was obsessed with learning everything about these pastas that they were making.
Elizabeth McCoy’s Pasta Tricks and Favorite Pasta Spots
5) Best advice for a cook?
Be very proud of what you do, even your mistakes. As a cook, you have to own everything that you produce, even if it sucks. You have to say, “I did that. My bad, but I did that.” I believe in standing behind your product, and I’m very proud of the pasta I make. There aren’t a lot of people now doing what I do. Also, knock on doors and tell them you want a job.
6) DOS & DON’Ts of making pasta?
Don’t over-hydrate your dough, let it rest long enough, and know how to fix it. If it’s too wet, add a little bit of flour and knead it. Make sure you knead your dough, you need to work the gluten networks, you need to make it elastic. Give it plenty of time to rest, minimum half an hour. I prefer to let it rest overnight, and let it ferment and develop and grow. Dough has a personality and you really don’t want to piss off your dough.
RELATED: Semolina Artisanal Pasta: Italian Traditions in LA
7) Your favorite pasta?
I love rigatoni. Marc Vetri once said in his cookbook Mastering Pasta, that there’s something great about biting into tube pasta and feeling the sauce erupt in your mouth… It sounds filthy as f**k, but it’s accurate. Bucatini all’amatriciana, I love them. Then, I’d say agnolotti, I love the sauce that goes on top, I love the filling, you get the whole package. It’s a real labor of patience and love. I can crank it really fast now. but I remember how long it took. Filled pasta was a completely different animal for me, because I kept second guessing – how much filling I should put, how much water, I’m not getting enough air out, I am not pinching them the right way and make them identical…
8) Where do you eat pasta?
I really love The Tasting Kitchen in Venice. One of my mentors established the pasta program at Osteria Mozza and I know it’s good, Nancy Silverton is putting out good stuff. I have tremendous respect for her, because it’s tough for women in this industry. In fact, I have my own separate set of battles apart from my workload of the day. I have so much respect for Bestia, for the longest time I’ve held Ori [Menashe]’s pasta to high standard. The sous chef of my pop-up dinners used to be their pasta line cook for years. I haven’t eaten at Felix yet, but just because I know that’s Evan [Funke], I know it’s full of love and passion and care. I know what goes into what he makes, and I will love and support any restaurant that he opens.
RELATED: 7 Dishes You Should Order at Felix
9) Which pasta do you want to learn next?
I would love to go to Sardinia, because there’s a pasta there called “su filindeu.” Depending on whom you ask, only three people, or twelve people at most still know how to make it. Either way, I want to be the next person to learn it, so I can bring it to the States and learn another aspect of the local culture. It’d be great to be able to say, “Look. I know it, I can pass it on to somebody. It won’t die out.
Join Elizabeth McCoy and Prince of Venice’s Next Pasta Dinner!
Want to try Elizabeth’s pasta creations before everybody else? Enter your email below for a chance to win two tickets to her next pop-up dinner on August 14! You will also receive occasional, free newsletters from us. Details below.
What: Prince of Venice Preview Night with Chef Elizabeth McCoy
When: Monday, August 14, 7:30-10:30pm
Where: Arts District, Downtown LA (exact address will be communicated to the winner)
Rules and Conditions: To participate in the giveaway, simply enter your email address above. By entering your email, you consent to receive our free newsletter, from which you can unsubscribe at any time. We will not share your email with any third party without your consent. Winner will be drawn at random. Prize is two free tickets for the August 14 Feastly dinner “Prince of Venice Preview Night,” linked above. We will contact the winner through the email provided and share two 100% discount codes, together with the exact location. The competition closes on Friday, August 11 at 12:01PM PST. We will announce the winner and contact him/her on Friday, August 11. If we do not receive a response in the 12 hours after the first email, we will move on to the next person, and so on until someone claims the prize.
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Disclaimer: This interview is unsponsored and unsolicited. Cover photo by Raffaele Asquer for Foodiamo, all rights reserved.