Suzanne Goin may be the most well-known chef in Los Angeles— she is certainly among the most adored. Her nearly 16-year-old West Hollywood restaurant Lucques is continually rated among the city’s best, as are her stalwart A.O.C., the Brentwood-based Tavern, Hollywood’s Hungry Cat, and the quickly proliferating series of The Larders (in Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills adjacent, and now at LAX). A native Angelena, Goin earned her stripes working with some of the best chefs in the world, including farm-to-table’s spiritual godmother Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. Like Waters, Goin’s mantle is crowded with James Beard awards and she, too, has launched a healthy local food program for school lunches; Goin’s ‘Lunch Matters’ is a partner project to Waters’s ‘Edible Schoolyard.’ This year, Goin’s The A.O.C. Cookbook, with complementary wine notes from her business partner Caroline Styne, won top prize at the IACP awards.
It seems to me that everyone who lives in Los Angeles lives in a kind of fantasy. Do you find that to be true?
Well, I was born here and, maybe because of that, LA seems “normal” to me!
You must think a lot about the way people eat in LA— how they get their food, how they spend their times during meals. And you have places that people interact with differently (whether it is lingering over a lovely dinner at Lucques, having a few oysters and a drink before a movie at Hungry Cat, or grabbing something to go from The Larder). Are Angelenos a unique community of eaters?
I think Angelenos are very open-minded actually, and for a chef that is exciting because we get to put our visions forward and generally people are excited to indulge us and check it out. It’s funny because there is a general impression or maybe a cliché (or maybe somewhere in between) that no one in LA eats – but as big as our city is, while those people are out there, there is such a diverse and excited group of diners who make LA a really fun place to cook. I remember when we first opened A.O.C. in 2002 people couldn’t believe we were opening a CHEESE AND MEAT focused restaurant in LA, but our local community embraced it feverishly and got right on board!
Pun intended, I hope. But, about that image-conscious constituency: like NY, and like Paris, LA has both the beauty factory and a great gourmand lifestyle. Are these in competition, do you think?
Maybe sometimes you could consider them to be in competition, but for us I think it helps that we try to create beautiful spaces that people feel good in and want to be in. So it’s about the food, but also the atmosphere and the “event” of going out to eat. For me it’s all about balance and moderation. The idea of cutting food, wine and other pleasures out of your life because of “image consciousness” seems tragic to me.
Is there something crucially Californian to your aesthetic— the way, say, California light and design are fundamental to Oliver Peoples?
I would say it’s the indoor/outdoor-ness of our spaces and the indoor/outdoor-ness of the food. Our focus is really on the beautiful fruits and vegetables being grown in southern California and also on bright fresh flavors, the outdoor feeling of a wood-burning grill; a relaxed, casual yet elegant way of life that is to me very Californian.
What are your favorite things to do if ever you aren’t working?
My favorite thing is to hang out with my husband and kids and just do “normal” stuff – cook dinner, play outside, chat, read, hang out. I also love hiking and going to the beach. And, of course, going out to eat and drink.
Are there things you sprinkle into your workdays to treat yourself?
Honestly no. But I’m lucky because I really do enjoy my job and I love the people I work with so my long work days don’t always feel like work (of course sometimes they really do!).
– photo by Ari Michelson