Suzanne Goin is a James Beard Award-winning chef, owner of four restaurants in Los Angeles, and author of one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Sunday Suppers was a massive hit, and I have cooked so many delicious meals from it over the years and still go back to it. She thankfully resisted her editors’ wishes to make things simple a la 30-Minute Meals, because if you are going to take time to cook, it should be delicious. Her food is seasonal, inspired by local produce, with layers of balanced flavors and textures. Eight years after coming out with Sunday Suppers, Chef Goin has just released The A.O.C. Cookbook, and was recently in the Bay Area for a book tour. Chef Goin told the story of how she opened the restaurant Lucques in LA about fifteen years ago with the philosophy of serving food that she would like to eat, rather than targeting a specific demographic, and in a more welcoming environment than some of the stuffy fine dining restaurants in LA at the time. At Lucques there was a lively bar scene, focused on wine, but it was limited to a small space. She wanted to create that same type of atmosphere but in a larger venue, and thus the A.O.C. wine bar and restaurant was born. There they serve cheese, charcuterie, salads, wood-fire oven cooked items, and desserts, all served on small plates to be enjoyed with wine. For The A.O.C. Cookbook, Chef Goin has modified the small plates served at A.O.C. into more traditionally sized main courses serving six people. Readers of Sunday Suppers will find the format and layout of the recipes very familiar. There is more explanation on why different flavor combinations appear in each dish and similarly, why specific wines are chosen, with wine notes for every dish by sommelier/co-owner Caroline Styne.
Chef Goin answered questions from the audience. How does she split her time among four restaurants? The menus at the restaurants change twice per season, and these changes are staggered such that she will often stay at one restaurant for one week for their change, then oversee the change at the next restaurant. She has gone from focusing on perfection for every protein while working at the grill, to stepping back and enjoying the big picture with well-trained staff in place at each restaurant. Where do they get their produce? All sourced from local farmers in Southern California, from Santa Barbara to Inland to San Diego. Often the farmers will bring new products that Chef Goin will then incorporate or make into a dish. What about work-life balance? There are trade-offs in juggling the jobs of chef, restaurant owner, author, wife, and mother, but she emphasized how important it was that when she is with her family she is present and focused on them.
Bookshop Santa Cruz is a great independent bookstore in downtown Santa Cruz and did a wonderful job hosting the event. They served delicious recipes from the book (Balsamic Glazed Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta, Roasted Cauliflower with Curry and Red Vinegar, Persimmon Cake with Creme Fraiche and Candied Pecans), and later Chef Goin and Ms. Styne autographed copies of the book and chatted with attendees. Chef Goin will be at Omnivore Books in San Francisco on November 8 at 6 pm.
Here is an Amazon link to The A.O.C. Cookbook, but use it only if you do not have a local independent bookstore that carries the book!