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NEW YORK A full restaurant with the heart and soul of a wine bar is how Los Angeles chef and restaurateur Suzanne Goin describes A.O.C., her eatery known for its small, shared plates and relaxed ambiance.
In the "A.O.C. Cookbook," which is the follow-up to her James Beard award-winning first book, "Sunday Suppers at Lucques," Goin turns the eatery's shared-style plates into main courses for the serious home chef.
"I love a traditional wine bar. I love the casualness and the communal-ness of it. But in the end I'm a chef so I don't want to only have cheese and charcuterie. I want people to have a whole meal," said Goin, who also is chef and owner of Lucques, Tavern and The Larder.
Goin, 47, spoke from Los Angeles about training under culinary legends Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck, and her conviction that cooking is all about the details.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a chef?
A: When I was growing up it wasn't really something you thought of to do. In college I got a job in a restaurant and when I graduated, it was this moment of, ‘Do you do the fantasy job you dream of, or continue on with school and do something else?'... I decided to do what seemed like the wild and crazy thing... and it kind of just took off.
Q: What is your training?
A: I didn't go to culinary school. I learned on the job... I worked in (Alice Waters') Chez Panisse for two years ... I did an internship at Ma Maison, where Wolfgang Puck got his start. ... Once you have one good building block it makes it easier to get a job at the next good place.
Q: Where does the French influence come from?
A: My mom was a big Julia Child cook so I grew up eating food from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."... I love Middle Eastern food. I love Persian food, and I love Italian and Spanish and Portuguese (food). Now I think my style is sort of a morph of all those flavors. But the root and the technique is French.
Q: You've said this is not the easiest cookbook, so who is it aimed at?
A: These recipes take time. I think it's for people who really love to cook, or who really want to learn the art, or craft, of cooking, not just mix A, B, C, D together in 30 minutes and be done.... I don't take out details. Certain little things maybe seem like they don't matter, but cooking is all in the details.
Q: Is that why you included wine pairings?
A: It's the similar idea of learning the process. (My business partner and wine director) Caroline (Styne) talks about what makes a good pairing with certain flavors and why. The way she teaches about wine is the way I teach about food.
Q: Why did you call this restaurant A.O.C., (for Appellation d'Origine Controlee), the French government's system for regulating and designating wine, cheese and other artisanal products?
A: I love that the French government made rules about what you can call a certain type of cheese, or cow, or lentil. I love that respect for ingredients and tradition and history.
Q: What's always in your pantry?
A: I start a lot of recipes with a little fresh rosemary, and a little arbol chile, which is a dried red Mexican chile: not to make the food spicy but to add another layer or note that makes the food more interesting on the palate. I think a lot of good cooking is about building those layers.
Bacon-wrapped dates with parmesan
24 deglet noor dates, pitted
1/4 pound Parmigiano- Reggiano
24 3-inch strips of very thinly sliced bacon
5 leaves flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Using a small paring knife, cut a small slit across the length of each date.
Cut the cheese into approximately 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch rectangles (the cheese will not cut into perfect shapes, but that's OK).
Insert a piece of Parmigiano into each date. Lay the strips of bacon out on a work space, next to each other. One by one, place each date at the end of a strip of bacon, and then carefully roll the date along the bacon strip, wrapping it tightly. Place the bacon-wrapped dates on a roasting rack set in a baking sheet, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown and crispy on the outside.
Arrange the dates in a bowl with the parsley leaves.
Remember to warn your guests that the dates are hot.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Doina Chiacu)