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Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger on Los Angeles' Food Trucks

Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger on Los Angeles' Food Trucks


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We talk to the Border Grill chefs about their truck and the quality of truck food

Ali Rosen

Mary Sue Milliken cooking

Los Angeles has always been a city for driving, but now even restaurants are hitting the road! Food trucks have been around LA for a long time, but the quality of food trucks has risen in recent years due to small startup trucks as well as larger restaurants getting in on the mobility trend. We spoke to Border Grill’s Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger about how they came to add a food truck to the ranks of their three Border Grill restaurants.

Feniger’s take is that "the food that we’ve always been most inspired by is on the street... But what’s happened in the last four years is that there’s been this huge influx of upscale trucks, which has pushed the level of trucks up anyway," she says. Milliken concurs, noting that the change for trucks has been the increase in accessibility to higher quality food. "There are pockets all over the city where people are trapped," she says. "They’re not close to restaurants and they can’t get away from work... So the trucks can come and actually bring fantastic handmade tortillas, and our meats are all raised without antibiotics or hormones. You know, really fantastic food where you might otherwise be stuck eating something you didn’t want."

For more watch the video above or go to the Border Grill website to locate the truck and the restaurant locations. You can also check out Feniger’s newest spot STREET.


Share All sharing options for: Susan Feniger Reveals the Secret to Making a 36-Year Culinary Partnership Work

Susan Feniger and longtime business partner Mary Sue Milliken teamed up to open their first restaurant — City Cafe — in Los Angeles in 1981. In the three-plus decades since, the duo has opened Los Angeles landmarks Border Grill and Ciudad and starred on Too Hot Tamales, the Food Network show that ran from 1995-1999. Feniger stopped by a recent episode of the Eater Upsell, and explained to host Greg Morabito how she thinks they’ve managed to stick together through restaurant openings and closings, PBS specials, and Top Chef appearances.

When they first met at Chicago French restaurant Le Perroquet, Feniger and Milliken bonded quickly over being two of the only women in the kitchen — plus, both chefs were from the midwest, Feniger tells Morabito. But, even in the early years, Feniger and Milliken had differences that allowed them to work well together. “[Milliken is] German and very detailed. I'm not German and way more sort of loose out there,” Feniger says. “I tended to lean more towards the chaos of the hot kitchen, she sort of focused more the cold kitchen and pastries, but we both did both.”

And while initially Feniger and Milliken did everything from collaborating on dishes to visiting the fish market together, Feniger says that their different interests, plus the birth of Milliken’s first child, quietly led to the two chefs taking on differing roles at the restaurants they shared. “She ended up not being there at night and there more in the days. As a result, that sort of pushed her a little bit more maybe into office, behind-the-scenes stuff. I ended up more operational,” Feniger says.

Feniger considers these separate roles the key to the long-lasting relationship. “I think we both take on our own responsibility for the stuff that we bring to the picture and the stuff that we have to deal with, and I think it's part of why we've been able to give each other breathing room to do what we want to do and to also start to do the things we're more passionate about,” she explains.

Because of this understanding, according to Feniger, both she and Milliken have been able to support different causes: Feniger is on the board of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Scleroderma Research Foundation, and the Los Angeles Convention and Tourism Board, while Milliken works with Share Our Strength, and the James Beard Foundation. The freedom that they’ve allowed each other has also led to Feniger’s own restaurant projects, like Street, which opened in Los Angeles in 2009.

The opening of Street, Feniger’s street-food-focused restaurant, marked the first time the chefs agreed to present separate faces to the press. “When I opened Street, we had sort of said, ‘Okay. I'm going to start to do stuff, and you're going to start to do stuff,’ and now we've sort of figured out how to each do separate stuff and still do stuff together,” Feniger says.

Feniger turned Street into Mud Hen Tavern in 2013 before closing the restaurant last year, but the decision to work both apart and together remains. “I think we figure out when to give and take, when one of us gives up and one of us stands firm,” Feniger says. “Certainly over the years at times I think, Should we stay partners? Do we not? But I don't think we've ever really explored that to a place where either one of us had the interest of not staying connected.”

Hear the complete interview with Susan Feniger as she discusses learning to cook Mexican cuisine, her stint on Top Chef Masters, and what she loves about the LA restaurant scene. Subscribe to the Eater Upsell on iTunes, or listen on Soundcloud. You can also get the entire archive of episodes right here on Eater.


Exclusive first look at Socalo, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s new restaurant in Santa Monica

Susan Feniger laughs heartily after she rushes into a banquet room at the Gateway Hotel on a recent morning, her hands full of bags of salsa macha. Turns out Mary Sue Milliken, with whom she owns and runs the Border Grill restaurants, has brought a deli cup full of the same rusty red salsa with her.

It’s a couple of weeks before opening day at Socalo, the pair’s new restaurant at the Santa Monica hotel, and the chefs are tasting renditions of the salsa, a heady mixture of roasted chiles and spices that they will serve there.

It’s been 38 years since Milliken and Feniger opened their first restaurant, City Cafe on Melrose Avenue. But it was Border Grill, which they opened in Hollywood in 1985 (there were five locations at one point), and the media presence they spun off of it (including an early Food Network show called “Too Hot Tamales”) that established the two as chefs on the national stage.

“They explored regional Mexican cooking a decade before the idea became fashionable,” Jonathan Gold wrote last year when he announced that Milliken and Feniger would be the recipients of the second annual Gold Award. “A lot of people who wouldn’t dare admit it at the moment may have first tasted panuchos, tinga, freshly made tortillas and pescado Veracruzana at Border Grill.”

Although they were ahead of the media and many American chefs and restaurateurs in celebrating regional Mexican cooking in the 1980s, much has changed since. Los Angeles is now home to many outstanding regional Mexican restaurants — there is exceptional Yucatan cooking at Holbox and Chichén Itzá, Oaxacan at Guelaguetza, coastal Nayarit at Coni’Seafood — and a new generation of Mexican-American chefs, including Carlos Salgado, Wes Avila and Ray Garcia, who have crafted a regionless, progressive Angeleno style of Mexican food.

Milliken and Feniger are the first to say they don’t identify as ambassadors for Mexican cuisine. Instead, they describe themselves as collaborators with their chef, Giovanni Lopez, and as appreciators of the cuisine they built their careers on.

“We have never been good at being boxed into a certain thing,” Milliken said. “We’re evolving along with the city. It’s not all 100% percent Mexican. This is our 2020 take on where Mexican food meets California.”

As such, they call Socalo a California canteen and Mexican pub that, like Border Grill, will serve the duo’s Mexican-inspired food. It is expected to open in mid-December.

The restaurant is meant to be a sort of edible narrative that chronicles their travels to different regions of Mexico and, in particular, Tijuana.

You can expect to find plenty of oysters, ceviche and sustainable seafood on the menu. The crudité platter will feature fresh vegetables as well as chicken chicharrones. Milliken also created a savory granola inspired by a dish she had in Brazil and plans to serve it for breakfast with chopped tomatoes and cucumber with yogurt and extra-virgin olive oil.

The opening menu is also reflective of a number of dishes that are dominating the conversations around Mexican food in Los Angeles at the moment, including birria and vampiros.

“We’re making the most delicious tacos,” Milliken said. “We cook the cheese on the comal and stick the tortilla to it. We’re using that technique in several different ways and working it into our burritos so that it creates that crunchy cheese before you fill it and fold it.”

Feniger said she is“jazzed” about the lamb birria, also inspired by a recent trip to Mexico. The two are serving their version with broth for dipping and pickled vegetables. For dessert, there’s ripe roasted and puréed plantains with oat milk custard and chia seeds.

The entrance to Socalo opens into a large bar area with long communal tables and garage windows that roll up creating an extended patio the dining room is framed by large windows that look out onto Santa Monica Boulevard.

At the bar, there will be 12 beers on tap — one local beer and 11 Mexican imports — as well as a large selection of tequila, mezcal, pox, sotol, raicilla and bacanora. And like the rum tastings at one of their former restaurants, Ciudad, Socalo will offer rum, tequila and mezcal tastings.

Socalo will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., with counter service for breakfast and lunch and full service at dinner. As for the name, the chefs say they were influenced by the vibrancy of the central plazas that serve as gathering places across Mexico.

“Almost all the towns we visited had these squares in the center, and that is where we would end up after 10 p.m., after a full day of eating,” Feniger says of the name, which is a combination of SoCal and zócalo, or “town square” in Spanish.

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Jenn Harris is a columnist for the Food section and host of “The Bucket List” fried chicken show. She has a BA in literary journalism from UC Irvine and an MA in journalism from USC. Follow her @Jenn_Harris_.

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WELCOME!

Border Grill Las Vegas is open for dine-in. Make a reservation and join us for Border Brunch, lunch or dinner. View menus here.

Border Grill Catering is the perfect option for celebrating any special occasion at your location. Get more info.

Border Grill Truck is on the move. Find our current events here.

Socalo, our little sister restaurant in Santa Monica, is open for dine-in, takeout, delivery, and family meal kits Tuesday - Saturday. Visit Socalo.

BBQ Mexicana, our little sister in Las Vegas, is now open at the Las Vegas Ballpark and reopening at Mandalay Bay! Get more info.

Border Grill Downtown LA is temporarily closed.

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Mary Sue Milliken

Mary Sue Milliken is co-chef/owner of the popular, critically acclaimed Border Grill, serving modern Mexican food in Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California, Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, and on the Border Grill Truck. A pioneer of world cuisine since the creation of City Café and CITY Restaurant in Los Angeles in the 1980s, Milliken is also well known as one half of the dynamic "Too Hot Tamales" with longtime business partner Chef Susan Feniger. Milliken is a preeminent ambassador of authentic Mexican cuisine, setting the standard for gourmet Mexican fare for over two decades and co-authoring five cookbooks, including Cooking with Too Hot Tamales, Mesa Mexicana, and City Cuisine. Always a trailblazer, Milliken was the first female chef to work at Chicago's prestigious Le Perroquet in the late 1970s, going on to train at a Michelin two-star, female chef-owned restaurant in Paris, and later joining a handful of progressive women chefs to found Women Chefs & Restaurateurs. An active member of the community, Milliken is on the national board of Share Our Strength, committed to ending childhood hunger in America by 2015 with the No Kid Hungry campaign. In addition, Milliken is passionate about the environment and leads the culinary industry with eco-friendly policies at her Border Grill restaurants and Truck.

Curtis Stone

Curtis Stone

Curtis Stone (curtisstone.com) is an internationally known chef, TV host, entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author. His philosophy to cook as Mother Nature intended inspires Curtis to keep his recipes simple, using local, seasonal and organic ingredients and allowing the food to speak for itself. Curtis is recognized around the globe for his ability to help home cooks find confidence in the kitchen with delicious, doable recipes and easy cooking techniques.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Curtis first found his passion for food whilst watching his grandmother make her legendary fudge and his mother roast her perfect pork crackling. He quickly learnt to appreciate the beauty of creating -- and eating -- homemade food and cherished the way it brought people together. That early lesson would ultimately become Curtis' ethos and the foundation of his culinary career.

After finishing culinary school, he took a job cooking at the Savoy Hotel in Melbourne before heading to London, where he honed his skills under legendary three-star Michelin genius, Marco Pierre White, at Café Royal, Mirabelle. and the highly revered Quo Vadis.

Curtis opened a multi-functional culinary headquarters in Beverly Hills in January 2014, featuring a test kitchen and his dream, little restaurant, Maude (mauderestaurant.com).

While living in London, Curtis appeared in several UK cooking shows before catching the eye of television producers in Australia. At the age of 27, he became the star of a new cooking series called Surfing the Menu. It was an international hit that led to his first American show, TLC’s Take Home Chef in 2006 -- the same year the blondhaired, blue-eyed young gun was named one of People magazine's Sexiest Men Alive. Curtis broke into US primetime network television with appearances on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice, America's Next Great Restaurant and The Biggest Loser. In 2012, Curtis co-hosted Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates and reprised his role as host of the network's popular culinary competition Top Chef Masters, which returned for a fifth season in 2013. In addition to this, Curtis is host of the new edition of the Top Chef franchise, Top Chef Duels, scheduled to air this summer. As a frequent guest since ABC’s The Chew's launch in September 2011, Curtis officially joined the ensemble cast as a regular guest co-host in November 2013.

As the author of five cookbooks, Curtis has shared his culinary know-how with readers around the globe. Surfing the Menu and Surfing the Menu Again (ABC Books 2004, 2005), penned with his friend and fellow Aussie chef Ben O’Donoghue, were followed by Cooking with Curtis (Pavilion 2005), a solo effort that celebrated seasonal fare and brought his chef's expertise down-to-earth for the home cook. Setting out to prove that good food doesn't need to be fussy, Curtis then released Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone: Recipes to Put You in My Favorite Mood (Clarkson Potter 2009).

Curtis launched his fifth cookbook, a New York Times best-seller: What's For Dinner?: Recipes for a Busy Life in April 2013 (Ballantine). His sixth cookbook is set for release in April 2015. Curtis also contributes to a variety of food and lifestyle magazines. He is a food columnist for the wildly popular O Magazine, contributing on a bimonthly basis. His debut column was published in the October 2013 issue.

Curtis developed Kitchen Solutions, a line of sleek and functional cookware, in 2007 after spending thousands of hours with home cooks in their own kitchens. The goal is to bring confidence to the kitchen with tools that help make cooking inspired and effortless. The first chef to debut an eponymous product line at Williams-Sonoma, Curtis has expanded the range to include close to 250 items, which in addition to Williams-Sonoma are available at HSN, Bloomingdales, Dillard's, Chef's Catalog, Belk and fine specialty retailers throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Singapore and Belgium.

Curtis' restaurant Maude (mauderestaurant.com) is the culmination of all his life and career experiences captured into an intimate setting. Curtis always dreamed of opening his own restaurant so when the perfect space in Beverly Hills became available, he jumped at the chance to make it his own. Curtis' passion project Maude, named after his grandmother, offers a market driven, prix-fixe monthly menu designed to create an intimate chef's table experience for the entire dining room, where every seat is within a comfortable distance to the open kitchen. Each month a single ingredient inspires a menu of nine tasting plates, and this celebrated ingredient is creatively woven, to varying degrees, through each course.

Curtis has fostered long-term relationships with charities around the world, including Feeding America in the US and Cottage by the Sea and Make-A-Wish in Australia. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Lindsay Price, two-year-old son, Hudson, and golden retriever Sully. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, gardening, surfing -- and cooking. For Curtis, cooking always brings fun. "There really is no better gift than a home-cooked meal and enjoying a good laugh around the table."

Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons

Gail Simmons is a trained culinary expert, food writer, and dynamic television personality. Since the show’s inception in 2006, she has lent her extensive expertise as permanent judge on Bravo’s Emmy-winning series Top Chef, currently in its 18th season. She is also the host of the upcoming series Top Chef Amateurs, giving talented home cooks the opportunity of a lifetime to test their skills in the illustrious Top Chef kitchen. A familiar face in the Top Chef franchise, she served as head critic on Top Chef Masters, hosted Top Chef Just Desserts and was a judge on Universal Kids’ Top Chef Jr. Gail hosts Iron Chef Canada and was co-host of The Feed on FYI.

Her first cookbook, Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating, was released by Grand Central Publishing in October 2017. Nominated for an IACP award for Best General Cookbook, it features accessible recipes and smart techniques inspired by Gail’s world travels. Gail’s first book, a memoir titled Talking With My Mouth Full, was published by Hyperion in February 2012.

From 2004 to 2019 Gail was Special Projects Director at Food & Wine magazine. During her tenure she wrote a monthly column, helped create the video series #FWCooks and worked closely with the country’s top culinary talent on events and chef-related initiatives, including overseeing the annual F&W Classic in Aspen, America’s premier culinary event. Prior to working at Food & Wine, Gail was the special events manager for Chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant empire.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Gail moved to New York City in 1999 to attend culinary school at what is now the Institute of Culinary Education. She then trained in the kitchens of legendary Le Cirque 2000 and groundbreaking Vong restaurants and worked as the assistant to Vogue's esteemed food critic, Jeffrey Steingarten.

In 2014, Gail and her business partner Samantha Hanks, founded Bumble Pie Productions, an original content company dedicated to discovering and promoting new female voices in the food and lifestyle space. Their first series, Star Plates—a collaboration with Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films and Authentic Entertainment—premiered in Fall 2016 on the Food Network.

In addition, Gail is a weekly contributor to The Dish On Oz and makes frequent appearances on NBC’s TODAY, ABC’s Good Morning America, and the Rachael Ray Show, among others. She has been featured in publications such as People, New York Magazine, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, US Weekly, Los Angeles Times, and was named the #1 Reality TV Judge in America by the New York Post.

In February 2013, Gail was appointed Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Babson College, a mentoring role where she works with student entrepreneurs, helping them develop food-related social enterprises. In April 2016, she received the Award of Excellence by Spoons Across America, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating children about the benefits of healthy eating. She is an active board member and supporter of City Harvest, Hot Bread Kitchen, Common Threads, and the Institute of Culinary Education.

Gail currently lives in New York City with her husband, Jeremy and their children, Dahlia and Kole.

Francis Lam

Francis Lam

Francis Lam returns to the Critics’ Table for the fifth season of Top Chef Masters. He is Editor-at-Large at Clarkson Potter, and previously, was Features Editor at Gilt Taste, which was awarded six IACP awards and four James Beard award nominations in its first two years. His own writing has been nominated for a James Beard award and three IACP awards, winning one, but he knows all this talk of awards is a little tacky. In past lives, he was a senior writer at Salon.com, a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine (RIP), and his work has appeared in the 2006-2012 editions of Best Food Writing. He believes that, in professional football, that would count as a dynasty in ancient China, not so much. Lam resides in New York City.

James Oseland

James Oseland

James Oseland is thrilled to be returning for his fifth season of Top Chef Masters. He is the editor-in-chief of Saveur, America’s most critically-acclaimed food magazine. Under his editorship, the magazine has won more than more than 40 awards, including numerous James Beard journalism awards, and three from the American Society of Magazine Editors. His 2006 book, Cradle of Flavor, a memoir with recipes about his time living in Southeast Asia, was named one of the best books of that year by Time Asia, The New York Times, and Good Morning America and went on to win awards from the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. He is the also the editor of Saveur’s cookbooks, including Saveur: The New Comfort Food, published in 2011, and The Way We Cook. He is on the board of the directors of the American Society of Magazine Editors and is the editor of the forthcoming Lonely Planet writing anthology A Fork In the Road. He is writing Jimmy Neurosis, a memoir of his punk rock youth in the 1970s, for Ecco Press, a Harper Collins imprint. Additionally, he has lectured at the Asia Society, Slow Food Nation, and the Culinary Institute of America’s Worlds of Flavor conference. He was previously an editor at Vogue, Organic Style, Sassy, the Village Voice, and Mademoiselle, and holds degrees in photography and film studies from the San Francisco Art Institute. Born in Mountain View, California, in 1963, James has lived in India and Indonesia and now lives in New York City with his husband, Daniel. His favorite foods are char kuey teow (Malaysian stir-fried rice noodles with shrimp and chile paste) and milk chocolate bars. Though he is very picky about the food he eats, he will consume anything and usually enjoy it very much.

Lesley Suter

Lesley Suter

Joining the Critics’ Table for Top Chef Masters Season 5, Lesley Suter oversees all dining and food coverage for Los Angeles magazine. In May 2012, Suter took home a James Beard Award, the first ever awarded for food coverage in a general-interest publication. She has lent her culinary know-how to national publications including Saveur and Conde Nast Traveler and has appeared on a number of television and radio programs, including a recurring guest spot on KCRW’s Good Food. She began her career as an Associate Editor at the music magazine Filter and later served as Editor-In-Chief of the alternative weekly newspaper L.A. Alternative. Suter’s food coverage has garnered national recognition in the form of several National Magazine and James Beard Award nominations. She currently resides in the hilly Los Angeles neighborhood of Glassell Park, where she shares a home with her husband Michael, two troublesome felines, and a backyard fruit and vegetable garden—which, if it weren’t for her neighbor, she’d likely have killed by now.

Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl, author of Delicious!, a novel that will be released by Random House in the fall, returns as a critic for Season 5 of Top Chef Masters. She was Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine from 1999 to 2009. Before that, she was the restaurant critic of both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, where she was also named food editor. As chef and co-owner of The Swallow Restaurant from 1974 to 1977, she played a part in the culinary revolution that took place in Berkeley, California.

Ms. Reichl began writing about food in 1972, when she published Mmmmm: A Feastiary. Since then, she has authored the best-selling memoirs Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, and For You Mom, Finally, which have been translated into 20 languages, and The Gourmet Cookbook. She is also the executive producer of Garlic and Sapphires, a Fox 2000 film based on her memoirs to be directed by Paul Feig, and host of Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth, a 10-episode public television series which began airing in October 2009.

Ms. Reichl has been honored with six James Beard Awards. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in the History of Art from the University of Michigan and lives in New York City with her husband, Michael Singer, a television news producer.

Bryan Voltaggio

Bryan Voltaggio

Current Residency: Frederick, MD
Occupation: Executive Chef/Partner of VOLT, Family Meal, STRFSH, Voltaggio Bros. Steak House, ESTUARY

Two-time runner up Bryan Voltaggio is the only chef who has competed on Top Chef (Season Six: Las Vegas) and Top Chef Masters (Season 5). He is back for Season 17 All Stars LA to prove that he has what it takes to bring home the title. A Maryland native and James Beard Foundation Award finalist, Bryan is the executive chef and owner of VOLT, Family Meal, and has three additional restaurants with his brother Michael including Estuary, Voltaggio Brothers Steak House and STRFSH. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Bryan was a cook at Aureole where he met his mentor chef Charlie Palmer. He later was a stagier at Pic, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Valence, France, before reuniting as executive chef at Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington, D.C. After working for Charlie Palmer for almost 10 years, he set out on his own opening Volt in 2008, followed by Family Meal in 2012. His latest project, Estuary, opened in March of 2019 and is the third restaurant he opened with his brother Michael. He has also released two cookbooks Home: Recipes to Cook with Family and Friends and VOLT.Ink, the latter which he co-authored with his brother Michael. As a father and chef, Bryan is a passionate philanthropist and has helped raise over one million dollars working with Chefs Cycle and No Kid Hungry to end childhood hunger. He lives with his wife Jennifer and three children in his hometown of Frederick, MD.

David Burke

David Burke

Blurring the lines between chef, artist, entrepreneur and inventor, David Burke is one of the leading pioneers in American cooking today. His fascination with ingredients and the art of the meal has fueled a thirty-year career marked by creativity, critical acclaim and the introduction of revolutionary products and cooking techniques. His passion for food and for the restaurant industry shows no signs of slowing down.

Burke graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and soon thereafter traveled to France where he completed several stages with notable chefs such as Pierre Troisgros, Georges Blanc and Gaston Lenôtre. Burke's mastery of French culinary technique was confirmed when, at age 26, he won France's coveted Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplome d'Honneur for unparalleled skill and creativity with his native cuisine. Burke returned to the U.S. as a sous chef for Waldy Malouf at La Cremaillere and then for Charlie Palmer at The River Café, where he ascended to executive chef and earned three stars from The New York Times.

In 1992, Burke opened the Park Avenue Café with Smith & Wollensky CEO Alan Stillman, and then, in 1996, he became vice president of culinary development for the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group. Burke has been honored with Japan's Nippon Award of Excellence, the Robert Mondavi Award of Excellence and the CIA's August Escoffier Award. Nation's Restaurant News named Burke one of the 50 Top R&D Culinarians and Time Out New York honored him as the "Best Culinary Prankster" in 2003. In May 2009, Burke was inducted into the Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America by the James Beard Foundation. In that same month, he also won the distinctive Menu Masters award from Nation's Restaurant News, naming him one of the nation"s most celebrated culinary innovators.

In February 2012, Burke was honored by the culinary school at Johnson & Wales University with the Distinguished Visiting Chef Award, which is given to the world's most influential and celebrated chefs. In November 2012, he was named Restaurateur of the Year by the New Jersey Restaurant Association. In the same month, he was honored with a Concierge Choice Award, celebrating the best in New York City hospitality, winning the best chef award. In 2013, Burke was nominated to "Best Chefs America," a new benchmark in American cooking whereby chefs name the peers who are the most inspiring and impressive in the business. In 2013, the David Burke Group was recognized by Restaurant Hospitality magazine as having one of the "Coolest Multiconcept Companies in the Land." The article highlights restaurant corporations with an enviable business concept that others can't wait to replicate. In addition, it cites the numerous incarnations of Chef Burke's creative vision, from David Burke Townhouse to David Burke Fishtail, from Burke in the Box to David Burke's Primehouse.

Chef Burke's vast talents have been showcased recently on television, including season two of Top Chef Masters, a guest spot on the Every Day with Rachael Ray show and as a mentor to Breckenridge Bourbon distiller Bryan Nolt on Bloomberg's small-business television series The Mentor. In 2013, he returned to season five of Top Chef Masters.

Burke's visibility as a celebrity chef has also led to consultant positions with hotels, cruise lines and food experts. Most recently, he was invited to join the Holland America Line Culinary Council alongside renowned international chefs Jonnie Boer, Marcus Samuelsson, Jacques Torres, Charlie Trotter and Elizabeth Falkner. In this capacity, Burke will consult on the cruise line's culinary initiatives, including the Culinary Arts Center enrichment program, and provide signature recipes which will be featured on all 15 ships. In 2003, Burke teamed up with Donatella Arpaia to open davidburke & donatella (now known as David Burke Townhouse, of which he has sole ownership). In 2005 came David Burke at Bloomingdale's, a dual-concept restaurant offering both a full service Burke Bar Café on one side and a Burke in the Box eat-in concept on the other.

In 2006 Burke opened up David Burke’s Primehouse in The James Hotel Chicago. His restaurant collection continued to grow that same year when he purchased culinary career began under founders Markus and Hubert Peter. His next ventures included David Burke Prime at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut and David Burke Fishtail in Manhattan, both of which opened in 2008. In February 2011, he opened David Burke Kitchen at The James Hotel New York in SoHo, bringing his signature whimsical style to downtown Manhattan.

In 2013, Burke made great strides in expanding his restaurant empire and enhancing his partnerships with other reputable companies. In the summer of 2013, he opened Burke's Bacon Bar in the James Hotel Chicago, a high-end sandwich and "to-go" concept featuring artisan and top-notch bacons from around the country. BBB features Burke's signature "Handwiches" -- palm-sized sandwiches packed with creative combinations of fresh ingredients -- as well as salads and sweets, all featuring bacon, in some form, as an ingredient. In 2014, Burke will bring his SoHo concept, David Burke Kitchen, which features modern takes on farmhouse cuisine, to the ski resort town of Aspen, Colorado.

During his tenure at The River Café, Burke began experimenting with interesting ingredients and cooking techniques. His first culinary innovations, including Pastrami Salmon (now available through Acme Smoked Fist), flavored oils and tuna tartare, revolutionized gastronomic technique. During his 12-year period at the Park Avenue Café, Burke created GourmetPops, ready-to-serve cheesecake lollipops. His Can o' Cake concept, where cake is mixed, baked and eaten from a portable tin, is used throughout his restaurants. Most recently, he teamed with 12NtM to create two non-alcoholic sparkling beverages, available in gourmet retailers such as Whole Foods and at his New York locations. Additionally, Burke is actively involved with culinology, an approach to food that blends the culinary arts and food technology. To that end, he is the chief culinary advisor to the Skinny Eats line of flavor-enhancing produtts.

In 2011, Burke received the ultimate honor presented to inventors: a United States patent. It was awarded to him for the unique process by which he uses pink Himalayan salt to dry-age his steaks. Burke lines the walls of his dry-aging room with brickes of the alt, which imparts a subtle flavor to the beef and renders it incredibly tender. Burke's steaks can be dry-aged for anywhere from 28 to 55, 75, or even as long as 100 days using this process.

Burke's first cookbook, Cooking with David Burke, and his second, David Burke's New American Classics launched in April 2006. He is currently working on his third book, due out in 2015.


Behind the Food

Restaurateur Profile: Mary Sue Milliken

Interview Date: Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mary Sue Milliken, co-owner of Border Grill with partner Susan Feniger, grew up in Michigan in a family that celebrated with food. “My mom was a good cook, and food was very important to our family,” she says. “She was a single mom from the time I was 12, and so we didn’t have a lot of money to go out to eat – instead we would buy great food and cook it together – we celebrated with home-cooked food.”

A home economics class during high school was the inspiration for Mary Sue to pursue a career in food. “I hated high school, and was determined to finish it as quickly as possible,” she says. “That home economics class made a big impression though and my sister said it was stupid to get a college education and that I should take up a trade. She introduced me to a chef, Greg, and as soon as I graduated high school (at 16 years old), I moved to Chicago and started working in kitchens.”

At 17 ½ Mary Sue gained entry to chef school. “I was immersed in food 24/7 and loved what I was doing,” she says. In addition to school, she also worked in restaurants and bakeries. Her sister’s friend Greg hired her, and she soon fell in love with his partner Rob. “We lived upstairs from the bakery and when we had any time off we would eat at the best restaurants in town. One of the best was Le Perroquet, and I decided that I wanted to work there.”

Mary Sue approached the owner, Jovan, and he said “I would love to hire you, but I could never have you in my kitchen – the guys couldn’t handle it.” Mary Sue says that she he offered her a job as a hat check girl. Not one to be discouraged, “I started a letter writing campaign,” she says. “He finally got back to me and let me work in the kitchen. I ended up overachieving pretty spectacularly and then one day Susan walked in and he offered her a job on the spot – I think he figured that if I was such a hard worker, she must be, too!”

Jovan became an important mentor to Mary Sue. “He was a dear friend and guided me,” she says. “Susan and I worked there together and did a great job. We learned more in that kitchen than anywhere else. Then Susan moved to California and I decided that I needed to get away too. Jovan was going to France and offered to take me along and help me get a job. I went to France without a job and I couldn’t speak French … nobody would hire me.” On their last night out before Mary Sue would have to return to the U.S. Jovan took her to a restaurant run by a woman chef. “She hired me on the spot,” she says. Mary Sue quickly assimilated, renting an apartment and taking intense French classes for four hours every morning. She worked there for about a year, all the while keeping in touch with Susan, who during that year moved to the South of France for an apprenticeship.

Susan came up to Paris for a visit and “over a few bottles of wine we decided that we should go into business together,” says Mary Sue. “We left Paris with almost no money – Susan went to California and I went back to Chicago. Six months later, Susan called and said I should move to California. I said ‘no way,’ but she’s very persuasive!” Susan had been running City Café – there was no kitchen, just two hot plates, but a lot of freedom and opportunity. “I agreed to move out as long as we got a stove, which we did,” says Mary Sue. “I did not leave Los Angeles for three years after initially coming – I was completely immersed in the café. You know, you go to chef school, you apprentice in France, and then you end up working in a tiny café with one stove, but we were having the time of our lives – going to the market, finding cool things.”

The owners of the café quickly recognized Mary Sue and Susan’s potential and made them partners in the business. “After working in all those fancy restaurants, it felt very free and lovely to be calling our own shots,” says Mary Sue. “We were able to really be our own bosses for the first time, and we started getting a lot of attention while cooking from our hearts – cooking food we love.” Soon they needed more space, and opened City Restaurant, which was 500 square feet, and turned the original café into a taco joint. “We weren’t sure whether we would do tacos or Japanese noodles or a really good hamburger stand,” says Mary Sue. “We went on a 3-week research trip to Mexico and drove around to get inspired. We discovered that we loved the street food, not the restaurants, and that’s what we decided to bring back.” Their concept – the Border Grill – was a hit, and they quickly outgrew their space and moved to the Santa Monica location in 1990.

Meanwhile, the partners had written two cookbooks together and got a show on the Food Network, Cooking With Too Hot Tamales (Note: this was the first cooking show that I ever watched religiously, and I still use many of the recipes!). They sold the City Café in the early 1990s and opened Ciudad in 1998. (Note: The week that I met with Mary Sue, they were in the process of converting Ciudad into a Border Grill the process is now complete.) In 1999 they opened the Border Grill in Las Vegas and added a kiosk in downtown Los Angeles and two food trucks. “The food trucks are really fun,” says Mary Sue. “We’re able to feed customers where they are and do so many things that we love to do.”

Mary Sue’s favorite part of being a restaurant entrepreneur is the opportunity to constantly surprise and delight people. “When you are in the restaurant you get to cook the same thing every day, so you can constantly tweak and refine every part of every recipe,” she says. “When you’re obsessed with food like I am, you notice how small changes impact a dish and enjoy constantly improving it.”


Behind the Food

Restaurateur Profile: Susan Feniger

Co-Owner: Susan Feniger’s Street

Interview Date: Thursday, November 4, 2010

“My mom was a fantastic cook,” says Susan Feniger, co-owner of Susan Feniger’s Street restaurant. “We always had people at our house, and there were always great things in the freezer, ready to go when we had guests. Everything she did went in the freezer – cheese dreams, peanut butter chutney, bacon toast, and lady finger icebox cakes. Everything was ready so that if people just walked in there was something to serve them. I definitely picked up a lot of Mom’s traits – some people just get it – they know how to season and cook.”

“My first job was at Smith’s Cafeteria in Toledo, Ohio,” says Susan. “I fell in love with the idea of service, and was drawn to the pressure and flow of working in a food service environment. I never really thought that I would cook for a living though!” Susan went to Goddard College in Vermont to study psychology, but dropped out to live in a teepee. “I was rebellious as a kid – I wore Salvation Army clothes. My dad was not happy when I dropped out of college.”

Susan decided to try a second time, this time at Pitzer College. “I was on a tight budget, so I would figure out how many meals I could make out of one spaghetti squash,” she says. “I worked for a cabinet maker and in the cafeteria at Pitzer while I studied Psychology, Economics and Business. I was always very focused and driven.” The cafeteria manager had been a cook in the army, and after two years of having Susan in the kitchen asked why she wasn’t studying to become a chef. “It had never crossed my mind,” she says. “But I talked to my advisors and set up an independent study program with the Culinary Institute.” Susan fell in love immediately. “I was always trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, but once I went to CIA it was a no-brainer. I never looked at my watch when I was cooking. It was just the right fit.”

Susan describes being a chef as requiring a lot of right and left brain. “It’s also very physical work and requires focus, business knowledge and a little bit of therapy,” she says. “The restaurant business is all about the people, the community, the relationships with customers, with employees. That is the most important part – how you treat people. The vibe of the restaurant comes from the people who own the restaurant. It’s very natural for me – I like people, I like learning about how they are. I like the physical aspect of being in the kitchen. I like the pressure, the coordination.”

After working in numerous kitchens and building Border Grill with Mary Sue Miliken, Susan was looking for a fresh opportunity to build a new restaurant. “I love Border Grill and everything that we have built,” says Susan. “With Street I was just looking to do something small and on my own.” She partnered with Executive Chef Kajsa Alger and the two got to work on building all of the elements of Street. “Kajsa worked at Border Grill for 20 years, and now she’s a powerhouse. I love seeing people develop and grow. When you’re building a restaurant, everything is important – we wanted the food to be right, but also the aesthetics. The tables are made from recycled paper, and the soap in the bathroom is recycled from our cooking oil. We had the muralist from Border Grill create a different style here, and we create customized music mixes with music from everywhere – Ethiopia, New Orleans, France.” The restaurant opened in March 2009.

In balancing her time, Susan says that she goes wherever there is the greatest need. “We have an extremely strong team at Border Grill that keeps things running really smoothly. Of course, when you open a new restaurant it takes more time, but I’m involved in both businesses.”

“I work a ton – at least 14 hours per day five days per week and one eight-hour day per week. I try to take one day per week off, but it’s hard,” says Susan. “I haven’t taken a vacation for about three years, but this is how I like to spend my time. I want to see it all grow, and I absolutely love what I do. Sometimes I struggle with the idea of ‘do I have enough free time?’, but I’m also sure that I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.”

Mary Sue Milliken – Border Grill

Restaurateur Profile: Mary Sue Milliken

Interview Date: Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mary Sue Milliken, co-owner of Border Grill with partner Susan Feniger, grew up in Michigan in a family that celebrated with food. “My mom was a good cook, and food was very important to our family,” she says. “She was a single mom from the time I was 12, and so we didn’t have a lot of money to go out to eat – instead we would buy great food and cook it together – we celebrated with home-cooked food.”

A home economics class during high school was the inspiration for Mary Sue to pursue a career in food. “I hated high school, and was determined to finish it as quickly as possible,” she says. “That home economics class made a big impression though and my sister said it was stupid to get a college education and that I should take up a trade. She introduced me to a chef, Greg, and as soon as I graduated high school (at 16 years old), I moved to Chicago and started working in kitchens.”

At 17 ½ Mary Sue gained entry to chef school. “I was immersed in food 24/7 and loved what I was doing,” she says. In addition to school, she also worked in restaurants and bakeries. Her sister’s friend Greg hired her, and she soon fell in love with his partner Rob. “We lived upstairs from the bakery and when we had any time off we would eat at the best restaurants in town. One of the best was Le Perroquet, and I decided that I wanted to work there.”

Mary Sue approached the owner, Jovan, and he said “I would love to hire you, but I could never have you in my kitchen – the guys couldn’t handle it.” Mary Sue says that she he offered her a job as a hat check girl. Not one to be discouraged, “I started a letter writing campaign,” she says. “He finally got back to me and let me work in the kitchen. I ended up overachieving pretty spectacularly and then one day Susan walked in and he offered her a job on the spot – I think he figured that if I was such a hard worker, she must be, too!”

Jovan became an important mentor to Mary Sue. “He was a dear friend and guided me,” she says. “Susan and I worked there together and did a great job. We learned more in that kitchen than anywhere else. Then Susan moved to California and I decided that I needed to get away too. Jovan was going to France and offered to take me along and help me get a job. I went to France without a job and I couldn’t speak French … nobody would hire me.” On their last night out before Mary Sue would have to return to the U.S. Jovan took her to a restaurant run by a woman chef. “She hired me on the spot,” she says. Mary Sue quickly assimilated, renting an apartment and taking intense French classes for four hours every morning. She worked there for about a year, all the while keeping in touch with Susan, who during that year moved to the South of France for an apprenticeship.

Susan came up to Paris for a visit and “over a few bottles of wine we decided that we should go into business together,” says Mary Sue. “We left Paris with almost no money – Susan went to California and I went back to Chicago. Six months later, Susan called and said I should move to California. I said ‘no way,’ but she’s very persuasive!” Susan had been running City Café – there was no kitchen, just two hot plates, but a lot of freedom and opportunity. “I agreed to move out as long as we got a stove, which we did,” says Mary Sue. “I did not leave Los Angeles for three years after initially coming – I was completely immersed in the café. You know, you go to chef school, you apprentice in France, and then you end up working in a tiny café with one stove, but we were having the time of our lives – going to the market, finding cool things.”

The owners of the café quickly recognized Mary Sue and Susan’s potential and made them partners in the business. “After working in all those fancy restaurants, it felt very free and lovely to be calling our own shots,” says Mary Sue. “We were able to really be our own bosses for the first time, and we started getting a lot of attention while cooking from our hearts – cooking food we love.” Soon they needed more space, and opened City Restaurant, which was 500 square feet, and turned the original café into a taco joint. “We weren’t sure whether we would do tacos or Japanese noodles or a really good hamburger stand,” says Mary Sue. “We went on a 3-week research trip to Mexico and drove around to get inspired. We discovered that we loved the street food, not the restaurants, and that’s what we decided to bring back.” Their concept – the Border Grill – was a hit, and they quickly outgrew their space and moved to the Santa Monica location in 1990.

Meanwhile, the partners had written two cookbooks together and got a show on the Food Network, Cooking With Too Hot Tamales (Note: this was the first cooking show that I ever watched religiously, and I still use many of the recipes!). They sold the City Café in the early 1990s and opened Ciudad in 1998. (Note: The week that I met with Mary Sue, they were in the process of converting Ciudad into a Border Grill the process is now complete.) In 1999 they opened the Border Grill in Las Vegas and added a kiosk in downtown Los Angeles and two food trucks. “The food trucks are really fun,” says Mary Sue. “We’re able to feed customers where they are and do so many things that we love to do.”

Mary Sue’s favorite part of being a restaurant entrepreneur is the opportunity to constantly surprise and delight people. “When you are in the restaurant you get to cook the same thing every day, so you can constantly tweak and refine every part of every recipe,” she says. “When you’re obsessed with food like I am, you notice how small changes impact a dish and enjoy constantly improving it.”


Border Grill Owners Return to Santa Monica With a New Mexican Restaurant

Veteran chefs and owners Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken closed the Santa Monica Border Grill back in 2016 after 26 years in business. They will make a triumphant return to the Westside with a new, unnamed Mexican barbecue restaurant. The new all day eatery will open on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and 20th Street by fall if all goes according to plan.

“When we closed Border Grill on Fourth Street in 2016, we knew that we’d always open another concept again in Santa Monica,” says Feniger. Milliken adds, “We love the community here, the leisurely attitude and creative vibe is exactly why we returned.”

The new restaurant is moving into an area that is transitioning from mostly medical-buildings to one with three forthcoming food businesses this year. Micro-batch roaster 10 Speed Coffee will be directly across the street, and Bruce Marder’s Red Rooster will be only a block away.

Feniger and Milliken ran Border Grill Santa Monica for 26 years, and still run a fleet of Border Grill food trucks and full locations across Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Susan Feniger also continues to run other restaurants inside the Huntington Library. Designer Alexis Readinger of Preen, Inc. (Tesse, Punta Cabras, Odys + Penelope) will put together the new restaurant’s interior.

Update: the original version of this article stated that the restaurant would be a Mexican barbecue place. The restaurant is still Mexican but won’t focus on a barbecue component.


Wrap Stars

&ldquoAt that time, it was L&rsquoOrangerie, L&rsquoErmitage, La Toque and Ma Maison, then at some point Trumps,&rdquo Susan Feniger lists over a mess of burritos at Lupe&rsquos #2 in East L.A. To be specific, the burrito spread includes the hot chicharron the special, which comes stuffed with chorizo and the California, which contains a thick layer of guac and french fries.

&ldquoAh, Michael Roberts,&rdquo Mary Sue Milliken says without skipping a beat, leaning over the blue picnic table and remembering the whimsical chef behind the Melrose Avenue institution.

&ldquoI remember Michael Roberts having a green pea guacamole on the menu,&rdquo Feniger adds.

&ldquoIsn&rsquot that funny?&rdquo Milliken chuckles.

That pea guacamole dates back to the early 80s (long before Obama slammed the infamous New York Times&rsquo recipe on Twitter last year), that golden era in California dining when the legendary chefs behind 1981&rsquos genre-bending City Cafe (RIP) and 1985&rsquos Border Grill shook up L.A.&rsquos restaurant scene with food like som tum-esque mango salad and vegetarian cuisine before veg-forward was a buzzword. It was a time before the Santa Monica Farmers Market&mdashmilitary vets grew mizuna and chrysanthemum greens as horticultural therapy&mdashand before California became an adjective for food, used to define sushi rolls, pizza kitchens and even this lovely hulking burrito at Lupe&rsquos. It made me, a born and bred Californian, wonder: What is &lsquoCalifornia&rsquo food anyway?

&ldquoWhen you say &lsquoCalifornia,&rsquo what part of California?&rdquo Milliken asks. &ldquoIf you&rsquore down in San Diego as opposed to Sacramento, I do think it&rsquos probably weird, but to the customer, it means vegetable forward.&rdquo

But for the French-trained chefs who traded their steel-toed shoes and tall toques back home for tennis shoes and Champagne-fueled smoke breaks on the California coast, it&rsquos much more.

&ldquoSo our menu then was like this . . . ,&rdquo Feniger begins, giving the City Cafe rundown, making Milliken laugh, &ldquo . . . cassoulet, pickled veal tongue with lobster sauce and sautéed pears, and potato bhujia.&rdquo

&ldquoWe changed the menu every day, and it would evolve just as to whatever we were feeling,&rdquo Milliken adds. &ldquoI would say it was a time of exploration, getting outside the normal. The customers and the chefs were all really pushing themselves. It was like someone cut loose the idea that the restaurant had to be fancy French or a hamburger joint. We could mix this all up.&rdquo

Which leads us to the leap from a period of experimentation to the modern response to the California burrito: the machaca-stuffed foldie at LocoL, Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson&rsquos mindful take on fast food, set right in Watts. Hip-hop is blasting, mod white cube seats double as tables on the menu, there&rsquos everything from chile-laced glass noodles, green goddess-drizzled bulgur salads, &ldquocheeseburgs&rdquo brushed with scallion relish, coffee roasted in-house, $1 collard greens and fresh-pressed juices.

&ldquoVery pastry cheffy,&rdquo Feniger muses over the burg&rsquos bun, which is, in fact, engineered by Tartine&rsquos Chad Robertson.

&ldquoI wonder what the veggie nuggets are. Should I go order those?&rdquo Milliken asks, as she goes for round two of eating through LocoL&rsquos menu. &ldquoWhat else do you want to try?&rdquo

Though they may not be the ones glazing a tandoor oven with mustard oil and raw sugar like the man who sold it to them or learning the ropes of making flavorful El Salvadorian beans in Mexico like one favorite street vendor, the exploration continues for the Border Grill chefs. Yes, California food means a lot of green things, we muse together, but after eating a lot of tortillas stuffed with meat, remembering the good ole days and ravenously diving into these new ones, it seems like California is more than token ingredients.

&ldquoI love the mix, which is so California,&rdquo Feniger gushes.

&ldquoLook at a guy like Ludo [Lefebvre] who came to work at L&rsquoErmitage and what he&rsquos opened now,&rdquo Milliken says of the very French chef behind both a French-Mex brunch spot and a fried chicken joint. &ldquoThat is really part of the charm and the amazing power of L.A.&rdquo

&ldquoIt allows you to open up and do things that you didn&rsquot think you were going to do growing up,&rdquo Feniger adds. &ldquoI mean Roy is a perfect example of that with his background and his training.&rdquo

And so it turns out a pile of avocados doesn&rsquot make your food Californian, but rather that obsessive pursuit of flavor and technique, and the spirit of screwing it all and going with your gut.



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