Susan Feniger needs only the briefest of intros: one half of the Too Hot Tamales duo that filmed hundreds of television episodes, sold hundreds of thousands of books, and foretold the high-end Mexican cuisine trend decades ago with their still-flourishing Border Grill. I interviewed her yesterday for my coming book on the history of Mexican food in the United States, and Feniger proved everything her public persona portrays: smart, talkative, kind (I asked for one hour; she gave me an hour-and-a-half), and endlessly working--she was dressed in her chef's jacket, as she had to be at her newish Street restaurant like, five hours ago.
You'll have to wait for my book to hear her thoughts about the taqueria that gave her and cooking partner Mary Sue Milliken the idea for Border Grill, but I did ask one question specifically for our audience: what, if any, Orange County restaurants did she like?
Feniger flashed her trademark grin. "You know, I never have the chance to eat in Orange County," she says--an understandable oversight given her constant shuttling between Santa Monica and Hollywood, in addition to the Top Chef Masters run and so much more. "But there was always one place I loved to have my friends take me."
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The Crab Cooker?! That iconic bit of Newport Beach historical camp?
"You have to understand, it reminds me of my childhood," Feniger said with a laugh. "When I was young, every birthday my father would take us to a lobster shack, because I just loved the taste of lobster even as a child. The Crab Cooker is just like those places we'd go to back in Ohio-down-home scene, lots of people, lots of food."
She did stress that she hadn't been to the Crab Cooker "in about 100 years," but still had fond memories of the place. When I shared with Feniger that the Crab Cooker had barely changed in her hundred years, she laughed joyously, thanked me for the interview, and took off to Street.