Scenes from Chefs’ Holidays, Part II: With Lucques, Peet’s, CulinAriane and Wilshire

The grand dining room at the Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park.

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA — You may know that Chef Suzanne Goin of Lucques, AOC, the Tavern and the Larder, all in Los Angeles, is married to Chef David Lentz of The Hungry Cat in Los Angeles.

But you might not know exactly how the two met.

I knew part of the story, but not all of the details — until I asked Goin about it when I was the moderator for her cooking demo at the 28th annual Chefs’ Holidays event at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

Thankfully, she was a good enough sport to spill the beans before a rapt audience.

Chef Suzanne Goin of Lucques on the demo stage.

“So, Suzanne…” I asked, “David just happened to be dining at Lucques. And your sister just happened to be dining next to him that night? And the two of them just started talking?”

Goin chuckled and said, “There’s a part of the story that David doesn’t like me to tell, so don’t tell him I’m telling you all this. He thinks it makes him sound like a stalker.”

Suzanne Goin's curried cauliflower with roasted carrots and tahini yogurt.

She went on to explain that in 1999, she was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs.” She appeared on the cover with the other honored chefs. She was the only woman among them.

Turns out Lentz and his roommate shared a subscription to the magazine. When that issue arrived in the mail, he pointed to the cover and told his roommate, “I’m marrying HER!”

So shortly after moving to Los Angeles, Lenz decided to dine at the bar at Lucques. Goin’s sister happened to be sitting next to him. The two started chatting. Goin’s sister marched back into the kitchen to tell Suzanne she ought to come meet this guy. Goin’s sister did this three times, and each time Suzanne refused. Finally, Goin’s sous chef, who also was her best friend, walked out into the dining room to take a look. She came back into the kitchen, and told Goin, “You should go out there. He’s kind of cute.” Goin finally did. And the rest is culinary history.

That was just one of the fun tidbits Goin peppered her demo with as she prepared “Curried Cauliflower and Roasted Carrots with Dandelion and Tahnini Yogurt,” as well as “Diver Scallops with Risotto Carbonara, Pea Shoots and Chanterelles.”

Although her business partner has dropped hints about “Top Chef,” Goin says don’t ever expect her to be a competitor, as it’s just not for her, she says.

(L to R): Chef Ariane Duarte of CulinAriane; Doug Welsh, master roaster of Peet's Coffee; Chef Nyesha Arrington of Wilshire; and Suzanne Goin of Lucques.

Even so, there were plenty of other “Top Chef” alumni to entertain the crowd. Chef Ariane Duarte, who owns CuliAriane in Montclair, NJ, competed on Season 5 of the Bravo TV show.

As she did a demo of “Pan Seared Day Boat Scallops, Mushroom Ragout, White Truffle Oil and Mushroom Syrup,” and “Sweet Potato Empanadas with Pineapple Chutney and Sage Cream,” she talked about her five-week audition for “Top Chef,” which she did on a lark.

She said one of the last questions the producers asked her was when was the last time she cried. She said it was on the plane ride to Los Angeles when she watched the film, “The Bucket List.”

(L to R): Martha Miller, demo kitchen coordinator; Chef Ariane Duarte; and yours truly.

Duarte's sweet potato empanada.

When I asked her if she did any special preparation — like cooking food from vending machines — to get ready for the show, she laughed and said, “My preparation was getting a manicure, a pedicure and my hair done because I knew I was going to be on national TV.”

Following her on the stage was Chef Nyesha Arrington of Wilshire restaurant in Los Angeles, who competed on Season 9 of “Top Chef.” Arrington was asked to be on “Top Chef” again this season, but declined because she didn’t want to leave her staff at the restaurant’s busiest time of year (last December).

Chef Nyesha Arrington prepping for her cooking demo.

Arrington's layered cauliflower panna cotta with squid ink gelee.

Arrington, who once wanted to be a sculptor and is trained in martial arts, got the audience’s attention as she broke down a huge hunk of beef into individual New York strip steaks, before making a port wine gastrique to go along with it. Then, she demonstrated a beautiful layered amuse of cauliflower panna cotta, squid ink gelee and tarragon-spinach froth.

It was her first time to Yosemite, and she made the most of it, even going snow-boarding the day before.

Doug Welsh, the master roaster for Peet’s, put on a fascinating presentation about coffee. Did you know that coffee is second only to oil as a traded commodity?

Peet's Master Roaster Doug Welsh pours freshly brewed Sumatra.

That coffee originated in Ethiopia? That Brazil is the largest supplier of coffee in the world? That he believes the French press is the best method to brew coffee because it gives a more direct infusion?

Now, you do.

Goin’s five-course gala dinner that night began with creamy-dreamy burrata served with roasted carrots and arugula, which had been dressed with a sweet, earthy cumin dressing.

Suzanne Goin's burrata and roasted carrot salad.

Goin's risotto carbonara with seared diver scallop.

Next, the dish we were all waiting for that she had demonstrated on stage — a plump diver scallop served over risotto, done carbonara-style with egg yolks stirred into it just before serving. Pea shoots and wild mushrooms grounded the dish in the season.

Grilled duck breast arrived with a swirl of sweet potato puree and preserved orange peel that was almost jammy in texture and had the lovely, slightly bitter taste of citrus rind that a great marmalade does.

Goin's interpretation of duck with orange.

Goin's pork confit with apples.

Pork confit was juicy and tender. Its richness was balanced by the sweetness of caramelized apples and the subtle tannin of the red wine used to cook the cabbage.

Vanilla pot de creme arrived in a coffee cup, hidden underneath a top of hardened bittersweet chocolate. Chopped, Marcona almonds dusted over the top added the perfect hit of salt.

Vanilla pot de creme with a dark chocolate shell.

It was the perfect ending to a week of stellar eats.

Yesterday: Scenes from Chefs’ Holidays, Part I

And: A Look at the 2011 Chefs Holidays with Chefs Michael Tusk, Jesse Cool and Colin Ambrose

And: Learn to Make Suzanne Goin’s Grilled Pork Burger

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