Small Kingdoms: How Francophile Chef Suzanne Goin Continues to Dazzle West Coast Foodies

A chef is so much more than a culinary mastermind in the kitchen. Our Top 100 Social Chefs feature artisans who have developed a brand and many of them showcase this with multiple different concepts.

One of the top chefs and leading ladies on this list is Suzanne Goin.

Goin was born in LA and food was always part of her life as her parents were “food-obsessed” Francophiles (a person who is fond of or greatly admires France or the French.)

She eventually made her way over to the east coast and graduated from Brown University. After working at some of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in the country, including working as executive chef at Campanie in LA, she decided to start her own venture with her business partner Caroline Styne.

Together they opened Lucques in West Hollywood in 1998 and it was an instant success, so much so that Goin was recognized a year later as one of Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs.

Goin did not stop there though. This was just the beginning of her small kingdom.

In 2002, both Goin and Styne opened an entirely different concept, a.o.c. (which notoriously lands at No. 1 on Foodable’s LA Top 25 Restaurants) known for its small plate menu and perfect wine pairings. The restaurant was the inspiration for Goin’s second book, The A.O.C Cookbook, which features seasonal recipes by Goin and wine notes from Styne.

Next Goin opened the seafood gem The Hungry Cat with her husband and fellow chef David Lentz in 2005.

Then in 2009, Goin and Styne opened the unique three concepts in one restaurant. Tavern in Brentwood, offers a full-service dining, a marketplace and a bar.

The success of the more casual section of Tavern, led the ladies to open The Larder at Maple Drive in 2011 and The Larder at Burton Way in 2013.

They even ventured into a wholesale operation for bread and baked goods in December of 2013 with The Larder Baking Company.

And most recently, Goin helped launched food and beverage operations at the Hollywood Bowl last year.

Goin shows no signs of slowing the growth of her small culinary kingdom, so we decided to sit down with her and find out what’s her inspiration for the concepts, why they remain successful and what is to come next for this super star chef.

How did your culinary empire start?

It began with our flagship restaurant, Lucques, which I opened with my business partner Caroline Styne, in 1998. We never really thought about creating an ‘empire’ and our other concepts, a.o.c. and Tavern came to life organically when we had an idea and found the ideal location. The other businesses followed and we had a huge growth spurt in 2013, opening the Larder at Burton Way, the Larder at Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX and Larder Baking Company in the same year! Last year we launched food and beverage operations at the Hollywood Bowl.

How do each of your concepts differ?

I label myself as a Francophile and Lucques is the reflection of that devotion to French cooking and my training early in my career working for incredible chefs both in France and the United States.

Our next fine dining restaurant a.o.c. was born out of our conversations about wanting to have a place that had a style like the way we liked to dine – lots of options for wines to try and a menu that offered dishes for everyone to share. So our small plates and wine bar concept came to life and it was a groundbreaking concept for Los Angeles. Tavern in Brentwood was styled to be a place for the neighborhood. You can have a burger or splurge on a steak for two, eat casually at the bar or at the Larder and even get food to go to enjoy at home.

Why do foodies love them?

I like to think my food is accessible to a wide audience and that people embrace our gorgeous California produce that plays a huge part in my dishes.

I also think that we make it easy to dine out because we always offer dishes for vegetarians and vegans that are as thoughtfully created as the meat dishes.

What have been the top 3 challenges of building multiple concepts?

We dedicate ourselves on keeping our menus fresh. I personally go through the menus at all of our restaurants and make changes for each season – often entirely new dishes that are not in our ‘repertoire.’ That’s a big challenge and a lot of work because I work with our Chefs de Cuisine and test everyone until I’m happy with the end result and feel that they’re ready to put on the menu.

Where do you find inspiration for the new concepts?

Travel always helps and I can be inspired by things I’ve tasted in Singapore, Hawaii, Bali, Montreal and even San Francisco, and then create something based on a dish that I’ve tried and make it my own.

But mostly I’m inspired from the ingredients, so in winter, I’m always thinking about persimmons, pomegranates, squash and citrus. By the time spring comes, it all changes again.

Any future plans in the works for further expansion? 

Our latest project with the Hollywood Bowl last season was all consuming and we’ll be getting to work early next year with menus for the 2017 season.

What advice do you have for other chef/restaurateurs?

Love your work with a passion; if you do, there is no greater reward than doing it for yourself.