Chefs Mary Sue Milliken And Susan Feniger
Inspired by a love for bold flavors and strong statements, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger have made their mark with home cooking from all over the world. For nearly two decades, the chefs have transformed street foods and comfort foods into critically-acclaimed cuisine, and themselves from a couple of Midwestern gringas into two of this country's foremost authorities on the Latin kitchen. Trail-blazers from the get-go, the classically-trained culinary grads (Susan from CIA and Mary Sue from Washburne in Chicago) met in 1978 at Le Perroquet, one of Chicago's best French restaurants, the first women to break into the all-male kitchen. Serious about food and ready for new territory, they both struck out for France--Feniger for the Riviera and Milliken for Paris -- knowing even then that they would work together some day.
"Some day" became 1981, when they opened City Cafe on Melrose Avenue in LA, with only 39 seats out front and just enough room in back for a 24"x24" prep table, a hot plate, and an illegal hibachi grill in the alley! They quickly outgrew the little space and moved to a larger site on La Brea, where CITY Restaurant (1985-1994) changed the culinary landscape of LA forever. CITY's eclectic cuisine--of dishes from Thailand, India, and Mexico as well as from Provencal France, Italy, and their mother's own recipe boxes--wowed customers and critics alike.
In 1985 Milliken and Feniger turned the cafe site into Border Grill, a "taco stand" serving authentic home cooking and street foods of Mexico. (It, too, outgrew the tiny space, and in 1990 moved to its current home on 4th Street in Santa Monica.) In 1998, the partners opened Ciudad in Downtown Los Angeles, presenting the bold and seductive flavors of the whole Latin world, from Havana to Buenos Aires and Barcelona. In 1999, the Border Grill concept grew to encompass another property, at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas... and the new Millennium promises a few more!
Natural teachers, Milliken and Feniger share their passion for food through many media. Their television careers began in 1993, as two of sixteen chefs invited to cook with the legendary Julia Child in her PBS series "Cooking with Master Chefs." Veterans of 296 episodes of their popular "Too Hot Tamales" and "Tamales World Tour" series with Food Network (1995-1999), the duo has now signed for a new series with PBS, and they often appear as guests on TV shows around the country. On the radio, they are heard daily in Southern California with "Hot Dish" on KFWB (980 AM), and on Pasadena's PBS station, KPCC (89.3 FM) for the hour-long monthly "Talk of the Table." Prolific writers, they have authored five cookbooks: City Cuisine, Mesa Mexicana, Cantina, Cooking with Too Hot Tamales, and Mexican Cooking for Dummies. They also contribute monthly articles to Cooking.com.
Milliken and Feniger are active members of many culinary associations that address hunger and foster sustainable agriculture, notably Chefs Collaborative, and Share Our Strength. They contribute real leadership and time to the Scleroderma Research Foundation, and played a founding role with Women Chefs and Restaurateurs.
Susan and Mary Sue's days are spent in the kitchen--writing and testing recipes, creating and reviewing menus, and managing busy businesses--as well as in their offices, researching their shows, planning restaurants, designing new products, and tweaking the website. In 1998, they also became consultants for United Airlines, and their dishes are now served on flights to major cities in Mexico, Central and South America America. But since they love best the interaction with their customers, Milliken and Feniger still take time to teach cooking classes and work the Border Grill booth at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market as time and travel allows. Most nights still find them visiting with guests and working with staff at their restaurants. Almost twenty years into their partnership, these girls keep pushing the borders.