Bringing authentic cuisines of Rio de Janeiro or Barcelona to sunny Southern California is re-nowned chef, and acclaimed TV personality (Food Network’s Too Hot Tamales) Susan Feniger. Feniger, who studied under Julia Child and on the French Riviera, crosses international and customary borders with her three restaurants, Santa Monica’s Border Grill, L.A.’s Ciudad, and Border Grill Las Vegas, the first restaurants to meld homestyle Mexican street foods and upscale settings.
Feniger and her longtime business partner, Mary Sue Milliken, defeated all the odds during their early days in formal French culinary training at Le Perroquet, a Chicago-area restaurant whose kitchens they integrated in 1978. The male-dominated industry only made Feniger more committed and driven. “I knew then I wasn’t going to read novels anymore,” she says. “I said, ‘I’m only going to read cookbooks.’”
After relentless studies under top chefs across the country, Feniger sprouted a modest but memorable first triumph: L.A. City Café was tiny enclave where she prepared globally-inspired dishes (Thai, Indian, and Mexican) on a hot plate (and on the hibachi grill installed in the back alley)! As word traveled, and stomachs grew bigger, more endeavors followed. In 1985, Feniger and Milliken traveled to Mexico City to “digest” the secrets of authentic Yucatan and Oaxaca home cooking. It’s there they picked up their penchant for Latin food.
Feniger’s unending curiosity for eclectic tastes and unyielding respect for traditional methods of home cooking and foreign street vendor foods have served her well. “I’m pretty lucky, I feel,” she says. “I started 27 years ago in L.A. That’s a long time to be around in the restaurant business.” We’re sure the forks won’t stop clinking any time soon.