Tuesday, November 28, 2006

LA Library Foundation Aloud Foodie Panel

The LA Library Foundation assembled an elite LA food panel of Los Angeles women chefs for their Aloud Series in the Library Mark Taper Auditorium. However, Nancy Silverton with her recent opening of Mozza Pizzeria restaurant could not break away from the kitchen. Even without Nancy Silverton, this was an opportunity to hear from Suzanne Goin (Lucques and AOC,) and the two hot tamales: Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger (Ciudad, Border Grill, and Sonora Cafe) about the defining moments of their careers and what it was like to be a woman in the kitchen early in their careers - which usually meant the pastry chef. We also had an opportunity to hear about some of their favorite restaurants, when they want to hide out and relax away from the kitchen. Moderator, Barbara Fairchild, Editor of Bon Appetit Magazine, engaged the three in a discussion of what they had each written in the book: How I Learned to Cook.: Culinary Educations from the World's Greatest Chefs (edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Peter Meehan).

These women have each made a major contribution to the food scene in Los Angeles with their restaurants, and have established a national identity with their respective cookbooks. They are part of a food movement that has been recently chronicled by David Kamp in his excellent book, The United States of Argula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation. Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken are mentioned in several places, and Suzanne Goin is one of many who can claim to have worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. The Chez Panisse story is one of the great chapters in the book and it was also featured in Vanity Fair. When I was a graduate student at Berkeley in the mid- 1970's, Jermiah Tower was in the kitchen at Chez Panisse, and I could not afford to eat there. I did finally make it in the late 1980's and count myself as a big fan of Alice Waters (by proof of the number of her cookbooks that we own).

The Aloud foodie panel provided an opportunity for each of these trand-setting women to interact about learning to cook in their home and being a chef on the line. Each claimed that their mothers were great cooks in their homes growing up. Barbara Fairchild asked each of them what would be their fantasy restaurant which elicited the following responses: Suzanne Goin - to serve the home-style cooking of my Mexican chefs; Susan Feniger - Indian Vegetarian; and Mary Sue Milliken - an 8-seat Japanese sardine restaurant.

My wife and I have many fond memories of City Restaurant from Mary Sue and Susan, and the picture you see above is ours that they signed commemorating almost 25 years of use. The book is now out of print. Our current favorite book is Suzanne Goin's Sunday Supper at Lucques in which we have made about one-third of the recipes in the book.

A great place to buy all of these books, is the Cooks Library, and Rose, the owner of the book store, was among the many who filled the Taper Auditorium. Since we are talking about foodie books, and Nancy Silverton is the talk of the town with the opening of the first of her two new Mozza restaurants with Mario Batali, another book that is already on its way to being a classic is Bill Buford's Heat. Mario is the inspiration for Bill Buford's best selling book that chronicles his adventures in learning what it really means to be work and cook in a famous restaurant and to learn a speciality. The chapters in which Bill Buford interacts with Mario are fascinating, but the book really takes off when Bill Buford recounts learning how to make pasta in Italy, and returning to Italy to learn everyting about being a butcher.

Congrats to Suzanne Goin and David Lentz - they are expecting twins.

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