"My sister and I used to earn our allowance making dinner parties for our parents," Suzanne Goin says. "We'd cook out of Julia Child and old issues of Gourmet. She was front of the house; I ran back of the house and did the dishes."
The L.A. chef and restaurateur (A.O.C., Lucques, Tavern) comes by her food nerdism honestly.
"We were kind of foodies before there was a word for it. My dad was a real Francophile. One of my favorite books growing up was a Roger Vergé cookbook. That's how I started cooking, looking through those great books."
Goin plating the fregola and orata
Goin was in town recently for the release of her own addition to the library of essential culinary guides, The A.O.C. Cookbook ($35). We were lucky to have her do a guest stint at the Test Kitchen & Dining Room for a pretty remarkable meal last week (see the party photos). Tender duck braised in Madeira was on the menu. As was a grilled orata with cauliflower, fregola and persimmon-pomegranate salsa we liked so much we asked for the recipe (see the recipe).
"We used to serve this cauliflower as a little dish on its own at A.O.C.," Goin says. "I wanted to add it to a fish and I loved how the cauliflower has all these spicy juices with olive oil and butter. I like when things get coated, when flavors meld and spill over onto each other a bit. At the restaurant we call it making things a little 'slutty.'"
Slutty with a chance of fregola. Got it.
Are there other big-picture take-aways from the book?
Goin spooning the persimmon-pomegranate salsa
"Definitely," Goin says. "For me cooking is very instinctive, but the process of writing makes you learn a bit more about why you put things together. I hope the book has some of these bigger lessons. I want people to think about what they're putting together and how to elevate the flavors. Think about the temperature of the pan and the size. A lot of times people put too much in their pan and you end up steaming instead of searing. Most home cooks err on making their pan hot enough. Restaurant cooks err on too hot. But the key is to be engaged in what your doing. Little details make a really big difference."
It's nice to talk to a chef who loves cookbooks and doesn't see the form as just a memento of a restaurant visit or formal record of their brilliance.
"I still like reading old recipes to see how classic dishes are really done," Goin says. "There's a lot to be learned. The idea that you're bringing all these ingredients together and making something new, there's still something very transporting about that."