Chef Review Food & Wine

Food, Glorious, Food

This weekend is the Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine to be held at Paramount Pictures studios on Sunday, September 5, 2010 from 12PM to 8PM.  It’s going to be a fun filled day packed with panels and demonstrations featuring some of our city’s best chefs.  We had the good fortune of getting to know three key L.A. food players who will be involved with this year’s event.  Read on to learn more about chefs Suzanne Goin, Mark Peel and Jonny Shook – what they’ll be doing at the show this weekend, how they’ve become successful and how they give back to our great community.

Suzanne Goin


Suzanne Goin is one very busy woman – raising three children and running three restaurants is her current life’s work. We spoke with Suzanne in anticipation of her demonstration at this weekend’s Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine. Suzanne is knee-deep in the restaurant business, because she owns three restaurants with Caroline Styne (Lucques, A.O.C, and Tavern) and she helps at her husband’s two restaurants (The Hungry Cat in Los Angeles and in Santa Barbara). But with her solid chef’s pedigree, including her two James Beard awards, she is thriving.

However, as we might expect, she does worry about balance, and has pangs of guilt about neglecting her restaurants, while raising her children. Happily, she has a ton of support. Both she and her husband have family nearby, and she even has a fish purveyor who sits with the kids.

We asked Suzanne what the key to her success has been, and she told us that from the beginning she and partner, Caroline Styne wanted “to open a restaurant that we would want to go to,” and to create a place that felt warm, comfortable and inviting.  A.O.C. was created from Caroline’s love of wine, and their shared fondness for food, and especially cheese.

We talked about sourcing great food, and she said that produce is no problem in Los Angeles. It is easy to secure food that is local, organic and from a farm. There are several farms in the area, from North County San Diego to Santa Barbara, from which to choose. She gets great local chicken from Jidori Chicken, but has to go beyond the state to secure lamb from Colorado, and pork from Iowa.

Suzanne knows how much she has been blessed and is always eager to give back.  She is participating in President Obama’s ‘Chefs Move to Schools’ program, and has enlisted the help of her crew of sous-chefs to meet the time commitment. They’ll be working at the Breed Street Elementary School in the Boyle Heights area of East L.A., where they’ll be helping the younger generation learn about cooking, food, flavor and how to feed themselves right.

For the event this weekend, Suzanne was paired with the McGrath Family Farms from Camarillo, CA.  She has a long history with Phil McGrath, and says they have “pristine produce”. She’ll be making a raw succotash salad with raw corn and sliced summer squash, and she’ll also slow roast salmon and then top it with cherry tomato brown butter.  ZOMG!! We can’t wait to try it!


Mark Peel has been in the food business for a long time. For 20 years, Mark focused on Campanile, the 2001 James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Restaurant of the Year.” However, to date he’s also created L.A. sandwich joint, The Point and dinner and cocktail haven, The Tar Pit.  He’s also the co-founder of his former wife’s bakery business, La Brea Bakery.  We caught up with him on Wednesday as he was on his way to the farmers market in Santa Monica.  He’s doing a market menu where he decides what to serve based on what looks best at the market that day.  From the market, Mark actually calls in the menu to the restaurant and staff types it out so it’s ready upon his return and for that night’s meal.

Mark’s an affable character with a youthful spirit.  He seems to really enjoy his craft.  That day at the farmers market he was looking forward to procuring peaches, nectarines and, of course, the late summer favorite – fresh tomatoes! We discussed sourcing meats and produce.  Mark buys whole lambs from Sonoma, but also mentioned the benefits of buying meat at county fairs.  Both Orange County and Los Angeles County have county fairs where kids in 4H clubs sell their livestock. This is truly the most loved animal you can consume – as Mark says, “they practically sleep with their livestock.”

Mark is preparing to present at this year’s Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine event. At the event, he will demonstrate how to prepare a meal using only an outdoor grill.  The meal he’s planning to prepare sounds amazing. He’s grilling pork loin with pan fried potatoes with mustard greens. The potatoes will be flavored with bacon, while the mustard greens will simmer on the grill with garlic and onions.

When prompted to give his thoughts on the notion of community, Mark replies that all restaurants are local restaurants. Given that most of his business comes from the Hancock Park community – he really doesn’t expect residents of Brentwood to make their way over to his area. Rather, he thinks the best thing we can do to reach out to our neighbors in our own community is to organize a block party. He calls it an “overlooked catalyst,” a phenomena where people are drawn out of their homes and into the lives and hearts of their neighbors.  Mark is also a philanthropist, and gives back to various charities including the American Cancer Society and Meals on Wheels. He also does smaller individual giving, such as working with high school students who show an interest in working with food.

Entrepreneur, businessperson, chef, innovator, good neighbor and philanthropist, Mark Peel is a true blessing on the City of Angels.


We had heard about the guys who run Animal.  We had heard that they were young, and had generated a solid buzz with their attitude and food.  We got a chance to get to know Jon Shook and discuss their ascent to star chef status.  Jon was quick to remind us that he and Vinny Dotolo didn’t have success overnight, and that at times they had been homeless or couch-surfed while picking up work in the 11 years they have been cooking together.  Since the opening of Animal they have garnered loads of press and industry awards.  They were written up in The New Yorker earlier this year, which helped introduce them to a whole different stratosphere of diner demographics.  They are now on their way to opening up their – yet unnamed – second restaurant, which will not be too far away from the first at their current location on Fairfax.  The new spot is located on West Third Street near Joan’s on Third in between Orlando and Sweetzer.  They are hoping to be open by late October/early November.

This weekend, they’ll be speaking on a panel discussing L.A.’s New Star Chefs with Michael Voltaggio, where they will ponder who will be the next Wolfgang Puck or Nancy Silverton.  Jonny insists that L.A. is one of the hottest food towns in the country right now, with industry leaders such as Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio and Rick Bayless all opening up Los Angeles outposts.  He is eager to explain his reasoning, and sums it up with two words: produce and publicity.   Los Angeles has unbridled access to quality produce and with its proximity to the television networks, the city offers a simple pathway to the national stage, and has the most “Top Chef” alumni in the country.

Jonny and Vinny try to give back to the community as much as they can.  They spread themselves as far and as wide as possible. Their favorite non-profit to support is the TS Alliance, and every year they participate in the Comedy for a Cure event.  They also maintain tight bonds and a kinship with fellow local chefs, including their first L.A. employer, Ben Ford.  They also “allow” one intern at a time to help learn the craft.

They continue to give back through their support of the local food community and by buying all-local produce.  They visit the farmers’ markets throughout town, but find California a difficult place to source beef.  Unfortunately, it’s too hot and land is too expensive for cattle, so they end up getting their beef from Iowa.  They also encounter some pretty odd supply chain management issues considering that they go through 60lbs of pig ears each week.  You can imagine the logistical nightmare of that sourcing task!

Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine
•  The event takes place on Sunday, September 5th (Labor Day Weekend) on the Paramount Studios Backlot
•  Tickets are $55 in advance for general admission/$65 at the door – includes a branded glass, 8 tastings from exhibitors, access to all the panels, discussions and demos, the live music concert by She & Him with Angela McCluskey opening and to the food trucks, which will be selling more food options.
•  Kids 9 and under are free with each paid adult ticket
•  A portion of the proceeds will benefit Share Our Strength and the Los Angeles Times Family Fund
•  Tickets available on the website

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