2019 Best Restaurateur: Suzanne Goin

By Sophie Gayot

Los Angeles is all about trends — film, fashion, food, etc. To succeed in satisfying the ever-changing tastes of this city can be quite a feat, and that’s just what chef Suzanne Goin has achieved on LA’s dining scene for more than two decades. We’ve previously expressed our appreciation by naming her one of the Best Female Chefs in the U.S. in GAYOT’s 2017 Restaurant Awards. She’s also received a seal of approval from the former U.S. President Barack Obama, for whom she has had the honor of preparing fundraising dinners.

Suzanne Goin was born in Los Angeles and developed a passion for food early on thanks to her parents. She worked in restaurants throughout high school and while studying history at Brown University. Afterwards, she gained valuable culinary knowledge working at notable establishments such as L’Orangerie and Ma Maison in Los Angeles, Al Forno in Providence, Olives in Boston, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and Alain Passard’s Arpège in Paris. Her time as executive chef at Campanile in Los Angeles would also prove formative and help lay the groundwork for future independent endeavors.

Lucques Los Angeles Exterior
Photo credit: Rob Stark

In 1998, Goin opened Lucques in West Hollywood with business partner and wine director Caroline Styne. Named after a variety of French olive, the restaurant offers inspired rustic Mediterranean cuisine with strong California influences. It’s served in an idyllic setting: the former carriage house of silent film star Harold Lloyd. Lucques has also catered events for Vanity Fair magazine, GQ magazine and many other clients.

a.o.c. Los Angeles Clams
Clans | Photo credit: Rob Stark

The duo followed up in 2002 with their second restaurant, a.o.c., which stands for “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée.” The concept was a local pioneer in upscale small-plates dining, thanks to its winning combination of petite portions of French and Mediterranean comfort foods plus an extensive selection of wines by the glass.

Goin and her husband, chef David Lentz, set their sights on seafood with the opening of The Hungry Cat in 2005. The Hollywood restaurant, which launched two spin-off locations, would go on to have a 15-year run. The year 2005 also marked the publication of Goin’s first cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, from Alfred A. Knopf.

Tavern Brentwood Los Angeles
The dining room at Tavern | Photo credit: Rob Stark
Short ribs Tavern Brentwood Los Angeles
Short ribs at Tavern | Photo credit: Rob Stark

The next restaurant project from Goin and Styne would bring them to LA’s Westside. Tavern in Brentwood made its debut in 2009 and encompasses three distinct areas: the main dining room, vibrant bar and lounge and The Larder at Tavern. The latter is a retail and take-out spot that tempts patrons to take home house-made bread, hand-crafted salumi, salads, cheeses or a bottle from an intriguing boutique winery.

a.o.c. Los Angeles interior
Dining room at a.o.c. | Photo credit: Rob Stark

The year 2013 was another busy one, starting with the move of a.o.c. a mile west on Third Street to a larger location complete with a lovely garden patio setting and an upstairs wine room. In October, Alfred A. Knopf published Goin’s second book, The A.O.C. Cookbook, featuring recipes from the restaurant along with wine notes by Caroline Styne. December marked the launch of The Larder Baking Company, a wholesale operation developed with partner and baker Nathan Dakdouk. This venture has made their artisanal breads, pastries and baked goods available to other restaurants and retail markets throughout the greater Los Angeles area and California.

Suzanne Goin Caroline Styne Sophie Gayot Hollywood Bowl
Suzanne Goin, Caroline Styne and Sophie Gayot on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl

Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne are so esteemed in this town that they were trusted with curating the epicurean experience at one of the world’s most iconic venues: the Hollywood Bowl. Since 2016, their parent company, The Lucques Group, has overseen the food and wine program in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Sodexo. This has enabled Goin’s culinary vision to reach an even wider audience — the space has a capacity of 17,500 guests.

LA Loves Alex's Lemonade
LA Loves Alex’s Lemonade at Royce Hall, UCLA | Los Angeles, CA

Goin has also dedicated her time, talent and energy to philanthropic causes. In 2010, Suzanne Goin, Caroline Styne and David Lentz co-founded L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade to benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and the fight against childhood cancer. Each year they have hosted this annual event and brought together some of the nation’s top chefs, winemakers and mixologists to participate. These efforts have resulted in raising more than $8 million to fund childhood cancer research, including more than $1.5 million at the 2019 event alone. Goin is also a founding member of Lunch Matters, an organization that focuses on healthy and tasty school lunch menus for children.

What else is on the horizon for chef Suzanne Goin? She and Caroline Styne will oversee the food and beverage program at the Downtown LA Proper Hotel, slated to open in spring 2020. We look forward to seeing Goin further make her mark on the LA dining scene with her signature style and skills.

> This article is part of GAYOT’s 2019 Annual Restaurant Awards.

Other Featured Restaurateurs:

2018: Nobu Matsuhisa
2017: José Andrés
2016: Jean-Georges Vongerichten
2015: John Besh
2014: Daniel Boulud
2013: Thomas Keller
2012: Jean Joho
2011: Michael Mina
2010/2009: Wolfgang Puck
2008: Sirio Maccioni