The young but growing BB&T Charleston Food + Wine Festival has worked hard to solidify Charleston as a formidable culinary destination. In addition to Charleston's own big-name chefs, the festival has brought in a number of top chefs from around the country. Past years have featured Gramercy Tavern's Tom Colicchio and Food Network's Tyler Florence. This year's line-up is the most impressive yet with Five and Ten's Hugh Acheson, Momofuku's David Chang, Hot and Hot Fish Club's Chris Hastings, and La Bernardin's Michael Laiskonis, to name a few.
One of the most exciting (for me personally) guest chefs participating in this year's festival is Suzanne Goin, 2006 James Beard Best Chef in California winner and one of the nation's top female chefs.
Life is busy for this L.A. native who owns and operates three restaurants (Lucques, AOC, and Hungry Cat, which she co-owns with husband Chef David Lentz). She also has an award-winning cookbook (Sunday Suppers at Lucques) and nine-month-old twins at home. It's hard to believe that free time is part of her vocabulary.
For Goin, cooking has always been a way of life. While in high school, she completed her first internship in the pastry kitchen at Ma Maison. From there it was off to Brown, where she earned a degree in history (with honors), while continuing to hone her culinary skills. She built a solid pedigree working in some of the world's top restaurants including Il Forno, Chez Panisse, Olives, L'Arpege, and finally L.A.'s Campanile.
In 1998, she opened Lucques and the accolades quickly followed; Food & Wine named her one of the country's best new chefs, and Condé Nast Traveler listed Lucques on its "50 Hot Tables." Yet, despite the acclaim and impressive resume, she is surprisingly down-to-earth. For Goin, it's all about the food and finding food that speaks to you.
She learned from the famed Alice Waters a deep appreciation for regional, seasonal, sustainable food. "The markets, weather, and classic dishes inspire me the most," she says. "It is about love of the product."
Goin's philosophy of food embodies who she is and the way that she lives. "Cooking is a craft that takes dedication, tasting, and reading," she says. "It takes patience and time."
At Lucques, Goin focuses on local, organic produce, wild fish, and naturally raised meats. Her food philosophy makes her pairing with FIG's Mike Lata for the Friday night Dine Around a perfect match. Goin, along with Le Bernardin's Laiskonis and Lassi's Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez, will prepare a five-course dinner. Kevin Pike of Michael Skurnik wines will provide expert wine pairings. After this sold-out dinner, participants will have the amazing opportunity to meet the guest chefs, probably the most exciting aspect of the festival.