Good Taste

Dad’s secret Sicilian recipe still wins hearts

By Gabrielle Myers
June 2024

Suzanne Lo Coco was making pizza with her father Giovanni when she asked a simple question.

“How do you know when to do this, when to do that, when to add this and when to add that?”

The answer opened a philosophical discourse into the countless ways food preparation brings meaning to our lives.

“He said, ‘Just listen, the food will tell you what it needs. You just have to be in it and it will talk to you. After a while, the food will tell you what it needs,’” Suzanne recalls. “It’s a practice, it’s kind of a meditation, and you will get there eventually if you cook like this.”

The former Newcastle restaurateur and chef has released a memoir, “Secret Dough: Coming of Age in a Sicilian-American Restaurant Family.” For decades, Suzanne was involved in her family’s Lo Coco restaurants and ran her own La Fornaretta kitchens, first in Pasadena, then Newcastle.

In the book, Suzanne examines her life growing up in the family’s kitchens and how Giovanni Lo Coco mentored his daughter, not just to love food but in artistry as a chef. He taught her to “see everything through food and the next meal we’re going to eat,” she says.

Suzanne’s focus on Sicilian cuisine is highlighted by her devotion to currants, sardines, pine nuts, tomatoes and citrus, ingredients distinctive to Southern Italian-style cooking popular in California.

Her relationship with food involves contact—tasting and touching a dish as it transforms during the cooking process. Giovanni Lo Coco, who immigrated from Italy to San Francisco in 1962, instructed Suzanne in the chef’s methods.

He taught her to “taste a dish in the beginning, in the middle stage and at the end, when the sauce is ready,” she says. “He felt it was important for me to understand what the sauce tastes like when it’s not ready, when it’s almost ready and then at the end.

“He’d quiz me: ‘What do you taste? What do you think it needs?’ You don’t know until you really get that flavor of how it’s supposed to be at the end. After a while, you start to understand what it is that might be missing, maybe a dash of lemon, a little more salt, pepper or butter.”

Attention to ingredients is obvious as Suzanne describes the Lo Coco and La Fornaretta frutti de mare with fresh clams and mussels as “dramatic and beautiful.” The meal involves house-crafted broth from rock cod and saffron.

Giovanni cultivated and dried tomatoes in his hometown of Porticello, near Palermo, and imported the results for his restaurants. He died in Sicily at age 77 in 2012.

Cheryl Koehler, a food writer and editor, encouraged Suzanne to write “Secret Dough.” Koehler recognized Suzanne’s talent for storytelling, served as a sounding board during the draft process and edited the manuscript.

The title carries a literal meaning. Giovanni’s pizza dough recipe, passed down through the family, remains a secret.

Storytelling comes naturally to Suzanne. She explains, “When you grow up in restaurants, you become a storyteller by default because customers come in and they want to know the scoop, they have all these questions and they like to be flies on the walls, watching our lives in action, so we become storytellers to entertain the clientele.”

Suzanne no longer works daily in restaurants. But her sons Gian Luca and Gilberto Di Lorenzo serve the family’s Sicilian cuisine at La Fornaretta in Newcastle.

“Secret Dough” is available for $17.95 at or at the family’s restaurants in Newcastle, Berkeley, Oakland and San Rafael.

Gabrielle Myers can be reached at Her latest book of poetry, “Break Self: Feed,” is available for $20.99 from Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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