Chef Goin's culinary ascent scales new heights

NEW YORK Tue May 13, 2008 1:21pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Two years after winning an award for best California chef Suzanne Goin is in the running for a top prize in the James Beard Foundation awards that will be announced next month.

Only three female chefs, Judy Rogers, Lidia Bastianich and Goin's mentor Alice Waters, have won the outstanding U.S. chef of the year award.

Goin broke into the upper echelon of the U.S. culinary world when she opened her first restaurant in her early 30s. Her flagship eatery, Lucques, has been a showcase of her acclaimed Mediterranean-inspired cuisine using organic, California-grown ingredients.

The 41-year-old California native also operates several other restaurants in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara area. She runs The Hungry Cat with husband and chef David Lentz.

Goin spoke to Reuters about awards and mentoring other chefs.

Q: What led you to become a chef?

A: "It was actually a slow realization for me. I grew up in a very food-focused family so restaurants and cuisine were always an important part of life to me. As soon as I got to college, I waitressed for six months until a kitchen position opened and then I cooked there all through college. When I graduated, I realized that in my heart I really just wanted to keep working at the restaurant so I decided to try it out."

Q: What will it mean to you if you win the James Beard Foundation award?

A: "Maybe I was just lucky to be raised by parents who taught me from an early age that being a man or woman shouldn't make a difference in what you can do or accomplish, so for me it never seems particularly strange that I am a woman chef."

Q: California seems to the epicenter where female chefs truly excel and catapult to national attention. What factors contribute to this?

A: "I'm not sure what it is about California. Maybe there is an unofficial stronger mentoring system due to the fact that there are more women chefs but honestly I personally mentor people based on their skills, talents and personalities. I'm just as likely to mentor a young male cook as a young female cook."

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?

A: "I think a lot of young cooks these days have some sort of TV/celebrity fantasy version of what it is to be a chef. Go work at places you love for people you respect, and educate yourself instead of waiting for someone to educate you. Read books and magazines. Look at menus online, and mostly eat and cook!"

Q: What do you cook for yourself when you eat alone?

A: "Pasta with butter, rapini or broccoli with garlic and chili, and prosciutto and butter sandwiches."

RECIPE

Endive Salad with Meyer Lemon, Fava beans & Oil-Cured Olives

1 Meyer lemon

5 Belgian endives, cores removed, separated into spears

Meyer lemon cream (recipe follows)

3/4 cup sucked fava beans

1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots

1/3 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and thinly sliced lengthwise

2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 tablespoon -inch snipped chives

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Meyer lemon cream

2 tablespoons finely diced shallot

1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup plus one tablespoon heavy cream

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the shallot, lemon juice, and a teaspoon salt in a bowl and let sit for five minutes. Whisk in the olive oil. Gently stir in the cream, add a few grinds of pepper and taste for balance and seasoning. Gently stir (don't whisk) in the cream to incorporate it without whipping it.

1. Place the lemon on its side on a cutting board. Holding it with one hand cut off the pithy end and slice the lemon into paper-thin pinwheels. Pick out the seeds. Slice the olives thinly so their intense taste doesn't overwhelm the other ingredients.

2. Place the endive spears in a large bowl and pour the Meyer lemon cream over them.

3. Add the fava beans, lemon slices, and sliced shallots. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently to coat the endive with the dressing.

4. Taste for seasoning, and arrange on a large chilled platter. Scatter the olives and herbs over the salad.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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