Just as the sun begins to cast broad shadows on the stone-paved backyard patio, the food is ready and the kitchen spotless. The table is set in elegant shades of pink and white. The rosé wine that matches both the delicious food and decorative decor is chilled to perfection. With everything in place the guests, all old friends, begin to arrive for a Mother’s Day brunch.
Like all pros, Chef Suzanne Goin makes her tasteful touch look like magic. On hand is the trio of women with whom she learned to love cooking and celebrating: her mother, Dr. Marcia Goin; her godmother, Ann Pope; and her sister, Jessica Goin, who manages one of Suzanne’s two L.A. restaurants.
While some mothers enjoy being treated like royalty on Mother’s Day, Marcia Goin says it’s a delight to spend a morning in the kitchen chopping and chatting with her daughters and close friend. The physician calls herself a "chemistry cook"—one who follows directions exactly, which, she says, makes her especially proud to have a daughter who is "a fabulous instinctive cook and a pleasure to watch."
Suzanne laughs. "When Jessica and I were little, we’d write outlandish Mother’s Day menus, with options like chocolate-covered frogs legs," she remembers. "Dad would choose the silliest thing, but Mother always knew what we were actually making and picked that. Good Mom," she says, giving her a hug.
Today, the menu is elegant comfort food—dishes chosen because they are either family favorites with a twist or delicious new classics. Fresh vegetables, including asparagus and corn, are featured, and everyone pitches in. Marcia cuts the spring asparagus (from one of Suzanne’s farmer suppliers) while Suzanne stands at the stove preparing corn cakes for the first course.
"This is a long way from when I used to dress up a can of Spam for dinner," recalls Marcia. "I was an intern and John [her late husband] was a surgical resident in San Francisco; it was economical. My Spam had a clove-and-brown-sugar coating—delicious," she says to much laughter. And that leads to another story.
"Once, for a party, John asked what I was planning to serve as a first course. ‘First course?’ I asked, thinking that getting together an entrée and dessert was enough. We made do without a first course that night, and luckily I soon found a book to help. Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961. That changed how everyone cooked and ate."