Monday, February 06, 2006

Goin to town

About 45 food lovers met to worship at the altar of genius chef Suzanne Goin Wednesday night at Let's Get Cookin' in Westlake Village, California.

We were packed into the demo kitchen area of the combination cooking school/gourmet shop/bookstore almost cheek-to-cheek, so to speak.

The reason for the crowd was that Goin is the chef/part-owner of two well-respected - one might even say beloved - restaurants in Los Angeles, Lucques and the trend-setting small-plate place, A.O.C.

She was in town selling her new cookbook "Sunday Suppers at Lucques,"
a collection of recipes based on the restaurant's weekly prix fixe three-course meals that change with the seasons, as all good menus should.

Curried Pea Soup

Goin was a bit reserved at first, maybe nervous, launching into a recitation of the steps she was performing to cook the demo meal, but warmed up as the audience relaxed and began tossing out questions.

Because she had said her first cooking job was as a pastry assistant at Los Angeles (now-defunct) institution Ma Maison, I asked "When you started out, did you want to be a pastry chef?"

The question launched an extended job history - a student internship followed by a job at Ma Maison at 17, Al Forno in Rhode Island during her years studying history at Brown University, a stint at Chez Panisse, time in France, first at an awful restaurant whose owner assumed she only knew how to cook hamburgers because she was an American, then a thankful escape to the temple of cuisine L'Arpege.

Blood orange, arugula and date salad

I don't know how old Goin is, but doing the math, she may be closer to 40 than she appears - she has the kind of understated upper-class beauty that has a certain timelessness.

For someone who loves food as much as she does and it is obvious from the confident, attentive way she moves in the kitchen that she loves food, she is very thin. She explained her weight when someone asked, saying that she rarely eats meals because she needs to taste things at work all the time, and truly tasting food when you are full is difficult and "kind of gross."

Her demo meal was like a poem to Spring. She made:
Curried english pea soup with creme fraiche and mint
Salad of arugula, blood orange slices, dates, thick-sliced parmesan pieces and almonds with a toasted almond oil dressing
Saffron chicken with parmesan pudding and snap peas, green onions and pea shoots
Meyer lemon tart with a thin layer of chocolate

It was all truly, truly good. I especially loved the salad, and the Meyer Lemon Tart, which had more butter in it than one would care to divulge in public.

As a special celebrity-spotting bonus, a lovely young actress, Camilla Belle, attended the class with her mom. It wasn't like she was standing up and saying "I'm a movie star," - most of us wouldn't have noticed her, but a crew from the New York Times was there doing a feature on her, so the camera action got a little intense at times.

Belle starred in the kind of creepy "Ballad of Jack and Rose" with Daniel Day Lewis last year and will play the lead in the soon-to-be-released remake of "When a Stranger Calls."

Saffron Chicken. Not vegetarian, but Mr. Snackish gave it his thumbs-up


Matt Armendariz said...

What a wonderful post, amazing to read about it with so much detail and depth that it feels like I was there. Thank you so much! And the recipes sound amazing and delicious. I think I need to get over to AOC again after reading this.

And to read it following your experience with the less-than-stellar flavors of your other cooking class, well.....

Suebob said...

Thanks, Matt!