Mary Sue Milliken and chef-partner Susan Feniger may be best known nationally for their mid-1990s hit Food Network show Too Hot Tamales, and the Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Las Vegas outposts of their innovative Mexican restaurant, Border Grill, but the pair has been a hit with Angelenos since the early 1980s.
Feninger and Milliken met in 1978 while working at Chicago’s Le Perroquet as the first women in the illustrious French restaurant’s kitchen, and both later trained in Paris. Together they opened City Café, in Los Angeles, in 1981, and expanded the vest-pocket-size place into restaurant CITY (1985 to 1994). Celebrating sustainable practices and flavors from around the world at CITY, the chefs homed in on Latin tastes after sharing meals with their Mexican staff and taking a cooking-intensive trip to Mexico, where they learned from home cooks, market vendors, and taco stands what authentic Mexican food was all about. The result: Mexican restaurants Ciudad (1998 to 2010) and Border Grill. And as food-truck culture evolved, they even launched a Border Grill Truck and the Border Grill Stop kiosk in 2010.
TV viewers who missed Milliken on Too Hot Tamales got to see her in action again as a “cheftestant” on Top Chef Masters, season three (she was first runner-up). She’s also made guest appearances on shows such as Iron Chef America, Oprah, Good Day LA, and Today.
Milliken and Feniger have co-authored cookbooks City Cuisine, Mesa Mexicana, Cantina, Cooking with Too Hot Tamales, and, for those who need to take it from square one, Mexican Cooking for Dummies.
An advocate for fighting childhood hunger, Milliken is on the board of directors of Share Our Strength, a national organization of nutrition and education programs.