Suzanne Goin is #1 (No, Really)

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Out of all the 25,777 restaurants in L.A. County, hers came out on top in our list of the best 75 restaurants (see "The 75 Best Restaurants in L.A.," April 2008). So, we thought it only fair to ask Suzanne Goin—chef/owner of Lucques and A.O.C., not to mention a new mother of twins—to spill some the secrets of her success. Or, at the very least, tell us where to score the best pea shoots right now. Inquiring minds want to know.

OK, this may feel like gushing, but why do you think you’re number 1?
Oh god—well I wouldn’t say that I think that we are number 1, but it is so nice to have a 10-year-old restaurant that has grown into something that is hopefully a real part of L.A. and that is loved by Angelenos. It truly meant a lot to not only Caroline [Styne] and me, but also to our staff who work so hard and are really dedicated. I do think that from the beginning Caroline and I have been true to ourselves and followed our hearts in every aspect of the restaurant. We created a place that we would want to go to, and hopefully some of that comes through and attracts people.

Do you feel that as native Angelenos, you and Caroline have a better handle on what this city really wants or needs than other chefs?
I think there is something great about working and living and being in your hometown. L.A. is a strange place and hard for a lot of people to understand, so I think that Caroline and I have a very good sense of how people live here and what speaks to them.

What does L.A. want from a restaurant?
I think Angelenos want a relaxed atmosphere and casual comfort, but they want to look good and feel good in a space as well. They want a sort of casual chic-ness with good energy. And of course, food!

Where do you feel Lucques is right now as a restaurant? Is this a particularly good moment in its history for any reason?
I feel like we are in a great place right now. We are coming up on our 10th birthday and it feels so good to be settled and comfortable but still full of energy and excited for the future. It’s so nice to have all the kinks of a new restaurant worked out so we can focus on hopefully just getting better and better. We also feel like we are in a great place with our many regular customers. I feel like there is a great cooperative relationship. I feel like they trust me and want to try whatever we are doing that is new. They may miss old dishes but are excited for the new ones.

How do you feel about the current hubbub with the Farmer’s Market (out of town chefs having trucks come in to snag our goodies)? Have you noticed it?
It’s sort of funny, because I remember when I first started going to the market when I was at Campanile, it was the home cooks who were so upset that the chefs were snagging all the goodies. It hasn’t really been a problem for us because we work closely with the farmers early in the week, before the market, and we place orders with them on Monday night. Of course, we go to the market as well to look for what’s coming up, to taste and to discover special treats, but we buy such a huge amount from the market that we order in advance which insures that we get what we want.

What is the one thing we should all be buying at the market right now?
Miner’s lettuce from James Birch, McGrath pea shoots, Coleman’s sugar snap peas, Schaner’s citrus and avocados…the list goes on!

Is there an overarching philosophy to your restaurant(s)?
I guess there is, but it’s so innate that it’s not something I have to keep in mind or even think about. It’s about respecting the ingredients yet being playful with them—experimenting usually with an eye to tradition but not being boxed in by any preconception.

Any news on the new restaurant you’re working on in the Hamburger Hamlet space in Brentwood?
Do you mind if we keep quiet about it for a little bit longer? We don’t want to jinx anything.