AOC CookbookSuzanne Goin is an acknowledged leader of contemporary ingredient-driven cooking in California…OK, the country… alongside Alice Waters and Nancy Silverton, both of whom she worked with. Suzanne’s four L.A. restaurants with wine expert Caroline Styne– A.O.C. Wine Bar and Restaurant, Lucques, Tavern, and The Larder–explore different facets of the chef’s love for Mediterannean flavors and her appreciation for the local growers who raise the exceptional ingredients she uses. Suzanne is a passionate fundraiser for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to combat pediatric cancer. Her first book, the award-winning Sunday Supper at Lucques, is still a best-seller, and if that isn’t enough, even the President has come to dine.

Now in the long-awaited A.O.C. Cookbook,  Suzanne shares the secrets of the cheese, charcuterie, and small plates menu that makes A.O.C. so popular. Suzanne’s 56-page cheese diary at the back of the book is reason enough to own this book. Started as a set of notes for the staff when A.O.C. opened in 2002, it evolved into a homespun compendium of tasting notes, stories, and histories of all the cheeses ever served at the restaurant.

Thanks to Knopf, I have a copy of The A.O.C. Cookbook to give away to one lucky reader. Here’s what to do to enter the contest:

1. Leave a comment on this post answering this question: What is your favorite cheese and how will you use it this holiday season?
2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm Pacific Daylight Time on Tuesday, December 17, 2013. The winner will be chosen at random (using and will be posted to my blog on Thursday, December 19, 2013.
3. The giveaway is open to U.S. readers only.
4. One entry/comment per person, please.

It’s been seven years since you wrote Sunday Suppers at Lucques. What’s changed in your cooking outlook since then?

I would say that the biggest change is that I have children now. I used to be very strict about doing everything from scratch and to order–from chicken stock to cooking chickpeas. The only thing I used to have in my freezer was gin, but now I make large batches of everything and freeze them to feed the kids another day! In The A.O.C. Cookbook, I’m more mindful of the realities of cooking at home and offer up some “make-it-easier” tips (even suggesting using a food processor to make green harissa!). If I ask readers to “do it the hard way,” it’s because that detail or technique really matters.

You’ve larded so many tips and tricks for readers throughout The A.O.C Cookbook. For instance, your note on page 225 about toasting and grinding saffron instead of dissolving the threads in water is genius! Can you share a few other clever tips readers should be on the lookout for that would be especially helpful this time of year?

  •  Pour off the braising liquid from long-cooked meats and return the meat to a hot oven to get a crispy exterior to complement the tender interior.
  • Pound fruits such as grapes or figs into your vinaigrettes to integrate more flavors into your dressing.
  • Sizzle rosemary and chili in olive oil before adding onions to cook almost everything!
  • Toast spices in a small cast iron pan to release flavor and dry slightly before crushing in a mortar and pestle.

Tumeric-Spiced Root Vegetables, Photo by Shimon and Tammar Photography

Thanks! Those sound like easy ways to get a big flavor payoff. While we’re at it, how about a couple of favorite holiday ingredients and recipe ideas readers will find in your book?

Here are a bunch to choose from!

  • Persimmon-Pomegranate Salsa (I love this on everything–on turkey, a salad, with a triple crème cheese)
  • Torta Gorgonzola with Walnuts in Honey
  • Braised Duck with Madeira, Kale Stuffing, and Dates
  • Balsamic-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
  • Turmeric-Spiced Root Vegetables with Kaffir Lime Yogurt and Mint Chutney (pictured above)
  • Sweet Potatoes with Bacon, Spinach, and Romesco

I love Caroline’s notes on wine after each recipe. The way she comes at pairing from a cook’s point of view is really helpful to readers. Does it ever happen the other way around for the two of you–that Caroline brings you a wine that spurs you to develop a dish to suit?

Honestly it doesn’t really happen that way except when we are doing a menu for a wine dinner or pairings for our Wine and Cheese Club at Tavern. I actually love doing it that way–we taste the wine together and do a little stream of consciousness.

So what’s the dinner hour like at the busy Goin-Lentz household?

Hectic, but usually fun…..and quick! We try to sit down as a family twice a week for dinner and always for breakfast, ideally leisurely ones on the weekend. Usually, my daughter Alex and I prep in the kitchen while David plays outside with the boys to distract them. We eat really simply at home: pasta with garlic, olive oil, broccoli or kale, and pecorino and a big salad–always with Persian cucumbers, radishes and avocado (and tomatoes in the summer of course). Or we have something simply grilled: pork chops, steak, or fish with a big plate of veggies and a salad. My younger son loves ribs, so we were on a rib kick for a while.

Suzanne Goin

Do you and David ever manage to find a peaceful moment together?

A quiet glass of wine before bed FOR SURE!

The term “farm to table” has become very popular. How do you define it?

It’s funny to me how suddenly, a few years ago, someone coined the phrase “farm to table.” I would probably be considered one of its early advocates or practitioners. Of course, I love cooking from “farm to table”–especially if the alternative is “Sysco to table,” “supermarket to table,” or “out-of-season-produce-from-faraway-places to table,”–but it just seems strange to me that that is considered a style of cooking. For me, it’s is a jumping-off point, or really just a description of one’s philosophy or mode of procuring ingredients; it doesn’t speak to what you do with that food once you get it. Truly, the goal is for everyone–consumers, restaurants, and grocery stores–to get our food locally and from well-managed sources. We should all be cooking and eating “farm to table,” whether simply or intricately, using whatever modernist techniques and gadgets imagineable.

I wholeheartedly agree with your definition on true seasonality (page 222)–it’s not an abrupt throw of the switch, but a gradual metamorphosis to the peak moment for a fruit or vegetable. What do you rely on to know when the time is right to indulge?

I talk to the farmers. Going to the market a couple of times a week (not always me, but certainly my chefs) really helps. And sometimes, I look at my notes from years before to remind me what to expect when.

Grilled Fig Leaf Panna Cotta, Photo by Shimon and Tammar Photography

What do you wish for readers to take away from The A.O.C. Cookbook?

I would love this book to serve not just as a collection of recipes but as a teaching and culinary guide. I go into more detail this time about the “why and how”–why I sear a meat before braising, why I chose sherry vinegar for this dressing, how I came up with a particular flavor combination, why a certain preparation works best with halibut. I hope that readers take that information in and learn from it. The highest compliment is when a reader makes a dish and then tweaks it to make it their own.

I couldn’t agree more. Thanks, and best wishes for the happiest of holidays.