They are California blondes, with firm lean athletic bodies, long legs and flowing Farah Fawcett golden-curls. They move in rarefied circles surrounded by good food, fine wines and colorful people. They love running on the beach and swimming in the ocean.
They are Doodles. A cross between golden retriever and standard poodle. Augie, a 13-month old male, and Chewbacca, a four month old female, are the energetic, much-loved dogs owned by superstar chef Susan Feniger, one-half of the sizzling Too Hot Tamales whose restaurants, cookbooks and television shows bring the bold flavors of Latin cooking to millions of Americans.
“Augie and Chewy get along great! When they lie on top of each other sleeping, they’re like two balls of carpet,” said Susan. “And, they are gorgeous! They look like they stepped straight out of a Disney film.”
While, the two dogs have not been down to Central Casting, yet, Susan and her business partner, Chef Mary Sue Milliken, already have one movie tucked under their belt. Their Latin-inspired food starred in Samuel Goldwyn’s 2001 movie, “Tortilla Soup”, a movie about life, love and dinner table featuring around a contemporary Mexican family in Southern California.
Susan and Mary Sue own the critically acclaimed Border Grill and Ciudad restaurants in Los Angeles and Border Grill restaurants at Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas and Pasadena, California. They are co-authors of five cookbooks, City Cuisine, Mesa Mexicana, Cantina, Cooking with Too Hot Tamales and Mexican Cooking for Dummies. On radio, they can be heard daily in Southern California with 3Hot Dish2 on KFWB (980 AM).
Susan received her formal training at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). She met Mary Sue 1978 when they were both working at Le Perroquet, a leading French restaurant in Chicago. They were among the first women to break into an all-male kitchen.
They each left separately for tours of France and re-connected in 1981 to open their first restaurant, the tiny City Café on Melrose Avenue. They later relocated City Café and changed the name to City Restaurant (1985-1994), which was considered one of South California’s more innovative restaurants at that time. They opened their first Border Grill, a tiny “taco stand” in Susan’s words, that served home-style Mexican food. In 1990, this restaurant was relocated to larger quarters on Fourth Street in Santa Monica where it still packs in crowds today. Feniger and Milliken opened Ciudad in downtown Los Angeles in 1998. There, customers can enjoy the dishes and flavors of the entire Latin world, along with terrific mojitos, caprihinas and South American and Spanish wines.
Their first television show, “Too Hot Tamales” and their second, “Tamales World Tour” aired on Food Network from 1995 to 1999. Now the two regularly appear as guests on national television shows.
At home, Susan likes to relax with her partner Liz Lachman and her small menagerie which includes the Doodle dogs, Chewbacca and Auggie, and two cats, Clio, an Abyssinian, and Olive, a calico. They all get along in the household, although Susan confesses that the bed can be a little crowded.
“Every morning Auggie comes to my side of the bed and pushes one of his stuffed animals in my face,” said Susan. “Then, he does the same to my partner!”
Susan agrees that the spice-influenced foods of Border Grill and Ciudad are not the best take-home doggy bag treats. Instead, she likes to feed her pooches steamed greens with a fried egg.
“It’s not a formal recipe, really, just a fried egg over steamed greens,” Susan said. Sometimes I like to mix in cottage cheese and some sliced carrots on top. Augie and Chewy also like apples, oranges and watermelon (without the seeds).”
While more sun, fun at the beach and the California good life lie in store for Augie and Chewbacca, Susan and Mary Sue are on a business roll. The restaurants are booming. They have a line of prepared foods, “Border Girls”
that can be found at Whole Foods Markets. Their line of pepper mills are sold through catalogs and retailers. And, they keep in touch with customers through their website www.bordergrill.com.
The only borders in the lives of these successful women are the ones they set themselves.