Suzanne Goin is one of Los Angeles’ reigning queens of the kitchen. She is the mastermind behind a.o.c., Lucques, Tavern and The Hungry Cat, where she shares chef duties with husband David Lentz. This year the two-time James Beard winner and six-time nominee has opened The Larder at LAX and The Larder at Burton Way, Rick Caruso’s high-end housing complex – retail markets that sell all the gourmet ingredients from Goin’s own personal pantry. Additionally, she, Lentz and business partner Caroline Styne raised $530,000 for the fight against childhood cancer at their 4th annual L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade charity event. The superstar chef is also celebrating the 10th anniversary of her feted West Hollywood eatery a.o.c., both by moving the restaurant to a new location on Third Street and by publishing The a.o.c. Cookbook, her follow-up to 2005’s award-winning Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Here, Goin tells us what she’s got cooking in the kitchen for 2014.
Tell us about your new cookbook.
I really wanted to do another cookbook and it had been seven years since we published Sunday Suppers at Lucques; I felt it was really time. With a.o.c., the menu is about small plates which makes dining more social and fun because you can try so many more dishes with friends and guests. With this book, I designed the recipes with a larger yield than we serve at the restaurant so home cooks could work with it easily. It’s organized seasonally so the cook can be guided to make dishes that fit the market and availability of product, which is my primary principle for cooking.
Why did you make the decision to share your secret recipes?
I actually don’t consider my recipes secret! I love being able to share them with our guests who love them and even with people across the country who have never been to a.o.c. If you are only as good as your recipes there is something wrong!
All of your ventures are highly successful. What is the secret to your success?
I would say the ‘secret’ is that we do things from the heart — meaning we follow our instincts and create restaurants that we would want to go to rather than trying to follow the trends or predict demographics. I think people subconsciously feel the soulfulness and love that goes into our places.
Your husband and yourself are both chefs and different restaurants. Has that ever been a problem?
No, it’s actually great because we have similar schedules and we understand the madness that is chef-ing and restaurant-running. When we first got together, we used to have trouble cooking in the kitchen together, especially at holidays. I think because we were both used to being the boss, we realized as long as we divide up the duties (and don’t collaborate!) it all works out well!
When you’re at home, who cooks, you or David?
Both. We take turns or we ‘divide and conquer.’ I do the salad and veg and he mans the grill or some combo of that.
What do you prepare?
We eat really simply at home. With three small kids there is not a lot of time for cooking and not a lot of attention span for long, involved meals. Also, after cooking and tasting all kinds of food all week, my palate really just craves something simple. We do cook breakfast on Sundays, usually a frittata or waffles with berries and maple syrup.
Are you teaching your children to cook? Have any displayed an aptitude?
Yes, I love having the kids in the kitchen and they love working on dinner. They do a good amount of the prep work, cutting veggies for salad, soaking and flipping French toast on the griddle. My younger son loves making veggie juices and smoothies. My daughter Alex is the most interested and has the most aptitude – she even has a recipe in my latest cookbook! She has a great sense of balance and seasoning (at age 6!).
Which chefs in L.A. do you admire the most and why?
Michael Cimarusti and Josiah Citrin for their rigorous dedication to fine dining; Michael Voltaggio for pushing the envelope; Nancy Silverton for making delicious food and being such a great mentor and role model for many of us.
Jonathan Adler revealed that you’re one of his best friends from college. Do you have any plans to ask him to help with the interiors of a future restaurant?
For the right project that would be so fun!
Are you planning another new space or are you sticking to what you have for the moment?
Lord have mercy no! All done for a while. I’m very happy excited to work at my existing places!
Why the decision to open The Larder at Rick Caruso’s 8500 Burton Way? How did that come about?
Mr. Caruso has long been a big fan of our larder at Tavern; he lives in the neighborhood and stops every morning for his coffee and more. He had the vision of us opening in his beautiful new 8500 Burton Way building. He has been a wonderful and supportive partner.
What are your favorite places for dinner, lunch, brunch, desserts and cocktails in L.A. (aside from your own)?
We don’t get much leisure time, and when we do spend it with friends and our family but we do enjoy Jinpachi Sushi, Gjelina and Tower Bar for the atmosphere and martinis. Christmas Eve lunch at Spago is a long time Goin-Lentz family tradition. Pizzeria Mozza is the best for all kid special occasions where they are treated like mini-royalty. I’m eager for David and I to get to ink. and Alma too.
When you’re not in your chef whites, what are your favorite brands to wear?
I actually don’t cook in chef whites. I’m a James Perse junkie and wear his T-shirts exclusively when not working. I love Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Maison Martin Margiela for high-end. For casual wear, James Perse and Roberta Roller Rabbit. My two favorite shops in LA are Noodle Stories and Lost & Found.
Do you have plans to expand your restaurants outside of LA?
No, I really like having everything close within reach.
What would you like to do, either with restaurants or with food itself that you haven’t yet tried?
Honestly, I’m really happy and satisfied right now. I’m looking forward to just cooking more in 2014.