With three high-profile Los Angeles restaurants, a bakery, a string of cafes, a catering company and the food concession for the historic Hollywood Bowl concert venue, Suzanne Goin has a lot on her plate.
She also has one date marked on her calendar each January for a trip to New Orleans.
Goin, co-founder of Lucques Group in L.A., is one of the chefs who lend their time, talent and names to Bal Masque.
It’s also become an annual reunion for a brigade of chefs from around the country who are among the most accomplished of their generation.
Bal Masque returns for its fourth edition Saturday (Jan. 19), and so will Goin. She hasn’t missed one yet.
“Everyone who goes wants to come back, so now we have this crew that comes together every year,” said Goin.
“Donald is a great spirit,” she said. “When he asks you to do something, you want to do it. You know it’s coming from the right place, you know he’s really looked into where the money is going. And you know he’s also going to throw a great party.”
When chefs throw a party, food naturally gets the spotlight, and Bal Masqué, the gala that Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski host this week, …
Chef Frank Stitt, godfather of the modern Birmingham culinary scene, is another Bal Masque regular. He cooks for the gala (charred tuna with porcini and truffles this time), he connects with friends from around the country, and he gets something intangible from the visit.
“Pardis and I always come away from this totally recharged and excited about the potential we have in our profession as restaurateurs,” Stitt said, referring to his wife and business partner. “We learn from others who do really good work and we see what else is possible.”
Restaurant people are constantly asked to participate in community events, and many consistently answer that call. Link and Stryjewski formed their foundation in 2015 to focus their company’s own efforts on pressing needs in New Orleans, principally by supporting community groups that address poverty and violence with opportunity and uplift.
The chefs they tap for Bal Masque come from close to home and across the country.
Along with Goin and Stitt, this year that includes John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss., Paul Kahan of Big Star in Chicago, Mike Lata of FIG and The Ordinary in Charleston, Nancy Oakes and Dana Younkin of Boulevard in San Francisco, Richard Reddington of Redd Wood in Napa Valley and Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, working alongside local chefs Nina Compton of Compere Lapin and Bywater American Bistro, Slade Rushing of Brennan’s, Maggie Scales, pastry chef for the Link group, and cocktail pro Neal Bodenheimer of Cure and Tales of the Cocktail.
In addition, on Friday, New York chef Andrew Carmellini will cook a dinner with Link and Stryjewski at their Calcasieu venue for the foundation.
“We’re really lucky that our passions are something that can raise a lot of money,” said Goin. “You love to give it, and people love to receive it and along the way you’re raising money for these really good causes.”
New Orleans banks on its reputation as a food city the way other places rely on their beaches or mountains.
Link, Strjewski and their company have hauled in a stack of James Beard awards, and their restaurants are perennial top picks in the crowded New Orleans dining scene. But they remain low-profile by the standard of food TV personalities, competitions and ersatz reality shows.
This resonates with the chefs who have coalesced around Bal Masque. Goin calls Link and Stryjewski “chefs' chefs,” not household names but the sort who have earned high regard within their industry.
Bal Masque had its brush with the opposite end of the spectrum. Mario Batali took part for two years before a sexual harassment scandal knocked him from the celebrity chef throne.
The chefs who form the Bal Masque crew now are drawn to the event by their admiration for their hosts, and the way the foundation extends their culinary approach to their community.
“It’s less of that TV chef, Iron Chef, let’s see how much PR we can spin out of this, and more about the camaraderie and sincerity you feel,” said Stitt. “It goes back to Donald and Stephen’s sense of integrity and honesty. Not only do they make great food and restaurants, they care about the things that are important to me, having a positive impact with our work and our influence as chefs.”
A winter trip to New Orleans is also always enticing, the chefs acknowledged. They come hungry. Goin does a Friday lunch at Galatoire’s every year. Stitt has visits to Bacchanal and Cane & Table on his itinerary.
Come Saturday night, though, you’ll find them cooking at Bal Masque with their friends, a collection of big names brought together for a cause bigger than any of them.
Saturday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m.
The Sugar Mill, 1021 Convention Center Blvd.
Tickets start at $300; see linkstryjewski.org.
Chef Donald Link is best known for giving New Orleans a taste of his native Cajun country. His next restaurant draws its inspiration from a di…