Interview: JW's California Grill New Chef Luigi Coccimiglio

By Cristina Ng, May 30, 2019

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In the great Italian tradition, Chef Luigi Coccimiglio discovered his passion for cooking as a child in the hours spent in the kitchen with his grandmother. At 13, he started working at a four-star hotel in the Roman countryside, and after a stint in Suzhou, he’s now in Shanghai. We visited him at JW’s California Grill to taste his signatures, find out his approach to Italian cooking, and learn which ingredients don’t belong in time-honored recipes.

"My grandmother always made deep-fried cod for Christmas that she started salt-curing in September"

How has JW’s California Grill changed since you started work?
I was lucky to find a good team here. I also found a nice restaurant in need of a leader, especially in terms of identity, so that is something that we will be working hard to improve. We want people to enjoy the experience as much as possible, because this is a five-star hotel in a beautiful building, and we have this restaurant on the 40th floor with an amazing view.

'Tirami-sushi' is a savory take on tiramisu. Image courtesy of JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai Tomorrow Square

Tell me about the starter that you presented to us today.
Tiramisu was the first dessert that my grandmother taught me, so I always have great memories associated with it. It’s been reimagined as a savory appetizer called ‘tirami-sushi’ that layers whipped mozzarella cream with ponzu and tamari-marinated prawns. The topping is a black olive crumble created by roasting the olives in an oven for 24 hours at 55 degrees Celsius.

Cacio e pepe with purple cauliflower. Image courtesy of JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai Tomorrow Square

What about the pasta dish?
I love cacio e pepe because of the pecorino cheese. The dish is simple as it uses only three ingredients: pecorino, pepper and pasta, but it’s not easy to make. If your cheese hasn’t been aged enough it won’t become creamy when you add the water; it becomes stringy like mozzarella. I add purple cauliflower for crunch, because I wanted something healthier than bread crumbs.

Zucchini crusted cod with green lobster sauce. Image courtesy of JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai Tomorrow Square

What is your inspiration for the zucchini crusted cod fish with green lobster sauce?
My grandmother always made deep-fried cod for Christmas that she started salt-curing in September. My version is made from Icelandic fish that sits in salt for 12 hours until it dries out, then put in water to change the texture. The fish is cooked sous vide for 25 minutes at 52 degrees Celsius, then pan-fried before serving. The lobster sauce gets its color from parsley, and it’s also served with a lemon and olive oil emulsion.

Image courtesy of JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai Tomorrow Square

How does the ‘Hail Roma’ dessert represent your hometown?
All the ingredients come from Rome, starting with gelato made from a variety of mint called mentuccia alla Romana, from the countryside. You can get chocolate everywhere, but it’s the addition of the salty, crispy pecorino with a bit of fresh, Genoa-style basil that makes this new.

Are you an Italian food purist?
Pineapple on pizza or mushrooms in carbonara are just some of the bad things happening right now, but if people want Nutella on Bolognese pasta, you have to give it to them, you just can’t call it authentic Italian.

What is the craziest thing a guest asked you to make?
I had someone order tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms on a Margherita pizza. And they ate it all.

[Cover image courtesy of JW Marriot Hotel Shanghai Tomorrow Square]

See listing for JW's California Grill here

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