A much-honored and influential chef with a long commitment to sustainability, Suzanne Goin has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation as California’s best chef, and for her cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. In 2008 and 2009, she was a Beard Award nominee as the nation’s outstanding chef, and she is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s 2010 Honored Chef of the Year. In this interview with Seafood Watch, Goin talks about her approaches to cooking and sustainability.
What inspired this recipe?
As is so often the case, the product itself is the inspiration—when those beautiful prawns come in I want to show them off and celebrate them. This dish is something I cooked once when we were staying at a house in Santa Barbara in the summer—the yellow tomato confit is rich and acidic and really coats the prawns. I love eating them with my fingers too.
What do you like best about spot prawns, besides the fact they’re a Seafood Watch “Best Choice?”
They are very tender and sweet. The meat is actually a little soft—another reason I like to cook them with the shells on. They can almost be a little mushy if you take them out of the shells.
Does this recipe work with other kinds of seafood?
Oh yes, it’s great with other small shrimp as well or with a grilled piece of fish with the shallots-garlic-tomato sauté over the top.
You’re known for your use of local, organic and sustainable ingredients. Where did this commitment come from?
I was actually first turned on to the local food movement working for George Germon and Johanne Killeen at Al Forno in Providence. They used to drive to the shore and buy amazing beefsteak tomatoes from a local farmer and serve them simply with olive oil, vinegar, red onion and basil. But I was immersed in it during my years at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.
It takes effort to find fish on the “Best Choices” list, fresh local vegetables or prepare a home-cooked meal after a busy day. Why is it important to do these things?
We need to take care of the resources we have and not deplete them. Food and eating is our chance to make a choice every day—what you put in your body matters to your health and to the planet.
As a working mom, what advice do you have about how to find good ingredients and make cooking manageable?
I know it’s really hard, but if you use great ingredients you actually have less work to do to make things taste good. I would develop a repertoire of salsas and condiments (salsa verde, tapenade, citrus salsas) that can easily and quickly finish dishes. I cook really simply for my kids—roast chicken, sautéed or steamed broccoli, brown rice, baked or grilled fish, corn on the cob, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes cut in half with a dollop of yogurt and lemon—it’s not fancy stuff.
We ask Seafood Watch Advocates to let chefs at their favorite restaurants know they care about sustainable seafood. Do you think this has power?
Yes, absolutely. When we first started our restaurants it felt like no one (customer wise) knew what we were talking about in terms of sustainability, organics or local. And now customers will say “Oh, are those Maryanne’s tomatoes?” Or, “Is the swordfish local and harpoon-caught?” It’s amazing.