Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Wednesday, July 18, 2018 | 2 a.m.
In 1995 Julia Child created a foundation to bestow grants in the culinary field, and in 2015 the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts began giving awards to those who have made a difference in the American food scene. This year’s winners, who will receive $50,000 for a charity of their choosing, are Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill, who have been a restaurant team for more than 35 years, operating two Border Grill locations on the Las Vegas Strip. Jacques Pépin, Rick Bayless and Danny Meyer are previous winners.
“It’s an obvious time to recognize women,” said Eric Spivey, the chairman of the foundation. “Susan and Mary Sue have empowered women during their careers.”
The two chef-restaurateurs had a close relationship with Child over the years. “We were surprised and honored to be the first women to receive the award,” Milliken said.
Both Midwesterners, they first met in 1978 at Le Perroquet in Chicago, where they were the only women in the kitchen. “We bonded immediately,” Milliken said. “Women had trouble moving up in the ‘70s and ‘80s so we opened our own place,” Feniger said. Travels in France, Thailand, India and Mexico contributed global flavors to their food at City Café and then City Restaurant in Southern California, long before they were the norm. Those restaurants put them on the map. A Mexican spot followed.
“We served food that we ate at staff meals,” Feniger said. They showcased their Mexican flair in books and on the Food Network, and their empire grew to include more Border Grills, spinoff trucks and other outlets. Ciudad opened in downtown Los Angeles in 1990 and is now a Border Grill. They have just opened a Mexican barbecue kiosk, BBQ Mexicana, in Las Vegas, and have an all-day Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif., in the works.
In short, they have persevered as business and kitchen partners; and now in their 60s, they show no signs of slowing down. Both chefs are active in charitable organizations, especially those supporting the food community, including Chefs Collaborative, Women Chefs & Restaurateurs and SOS. “We have led by example,” Milliken said. “We’ve never said no to anybody; we feel we’ve opened the door for people to learn to love challenging food.”
The Julia Child Award will be given to the chefs at a gala on Nov. 1 in Washington.