Interview with Outstanding Chef Award Nominee Suzanne Goin
Anna MowryAnna Mowry
April 28, 2014
On the family tree of California restaurant empires, Suzanne Goin’s branch is sturdy, and still forming rings. Over the past decade and a half, along with business partner and fellow Beard nominee, Caroline Styne, she has built one of the most respected and acclaimed restaurant groups in Los Angeles. She also authored Sunday Suppers at Lucques, an essential title for many home cooks, and, last year, The A.O.C. Cookbook. In the following interview, Goin gets us up to speed on her latest venture and her last great meal.
JBF: In February you and master baker Nathan Dakdouk opened Larder Baking Co., a wholesale bakery that's supplying your restaurants and other restaurants and retailers throughout the LA area. How’s it going so far?
SG: It's been going really well. Nathan is so talented and it's fun to see him with room to stretch his arms. (Seriously, baking out of Tavern for all those years was crazy!) We’ve gotten quite a bit of new business that we just weren’t able to take on before. Bakeries are amazing to me because, unlike restaurants, they are 75 percent empty space. In a restaurant, the kitchen is always crowded with equipment and people. A bakery is all about the ovens and having room to move the dough and loaves around for shaping, proofing, cooling, and packing. It's a very different scenario.
JBF: What are some of your favorite menu items that customers should keep an eye out for?
SG: Our multigrain and whole-wheat breads are fantastic, but everyone goes nuts for our blueberry boule. I know it sounds crazy—I thought Nathan had lost his mind when he mentioned it— but when you taste it, you see that it's just the most delicious bread. Our pastries are great, too—all the laminated doughs are based on a recipe and technique I learned while working at a jewelry-box pâtisserie in Paris back in the early 90s. We also have a pecan sticky bun I started out making for the Hungry Cat, as well as an apricot–pistachio scone that is killer.
JBF: Your partner, Caroline Styne, is nominated for the Outstanding Restaurateur award this year. What is your relationship like after having opened so many projects together?
SG: It’s really like we’re married, in the best of ways. I call her my "restaurant wife." We’re so close after all these years that we can finish each other's sentences, and I often don't even have to ask her what she thinks, because I know, and vice versa. We’ve always gotten along really well, but now it's just super close and super tight. I can’t imagine my job or my life without her, and if I don't see her for a few days, which doesn't happen all that often, it sort of freaks me out.
The restaurant business is just so tough, draining, and frustrating (when it's not awesome, which it also is) that it's great to have a partner to go through it all together. It’s great to have someone else for talking things out, bouncing around ideas, and making big decisions. We know each other's tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses so well.
JBF: Last year you released The A.O.C. Cookbook, your second book. For home cooks who are looking to tackle some of the dishes, which spring recipes would you recommend?
SG: The Sweet Pea Pancakes with Dungeness Crab and Red Onion Crème Fraîche, the Spring Vegetable Salad with Farro and Meyer Lemon, the Alaskan Halibut with Carrot Purée, and many more.
JBF: What are a few cookbooks that you find yourself returning to again and again?
SG: Eric Ripert's A Return to Cooking. It's like an old friend I just want to keep visiting. I love immersing myself in the idyllic world of that book. Also the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, which is like going back to the holy grail. I love seeing how French the restaurant was back then. I want to eat all that food.
JBF: Can you tell us about a great meal you've had over the past year?
SG: I was in Toronto for my book tour and my husband, David, and I sort of stumbled upon Bar Isabel. Well, not really stumbled: it was more like every restaurant person and interested diner we ran into told us to go there! Everything we ate and drank was so damned delicious, but my favorite was the whole grilled octopus, served with a knife sticking out of it. The space is bustling and active with just the right amount of hip, and the service was impeccable in a super-friendly and relaxed way.
JBF: Final question: what is your earliest food memory?
SG: I remember going to this fancy little bodega with my mom here in LA to pick up something for a dinner party, and I would always get a mini shrimp cocktail, made with tiny bay shrimp, and a chocolate mousse—yikes! Thinking of that combination now makes me a little ill, but I remember dreaming of it as a kid.
The 2014 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef is presented by All-Clad Metalcrafters.