Mary Sue Milliken
Mary Sue Milliken is a James Beard and Julia Child award recipient, cookbook author, media personality, and food system activist best known for her modern Mexican concept, Border Grill restaurants, trucks, and catering, which she runs with her business partner Susan Feniger. With locations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Border Grill serves street food-inspired regional Mexican cuisine with a commitment to sustainability and conscientiously-sourced ingredients.
In 2018, Milliken and Feniger debuted BBQ Mexicana, a fast casual eatery now with four locations in Las Vegas; in late 2019 the chefs opened Socalo, a California canteen and Mexican Pub serving seasonal SoCal Mexican fare in Santa Monica; and most recently the duo launched Pacha Mamas, featuring seared skewers a la plancha and freshly composed ceviches, at Allegiant Stadium and T-Mobile Arena. Later this year, the duo will open two new restaurants, a fifth BBQ Mexicana location in Las Vegas plus a new restaurant at Living Out, an LGBTQ+ active senior community in Palm Springs, called Alice B.
Milliken leads with a staff- and community-forward approach with sustainability at its core. She has also witnessed the industry catch up to Border Grill in offering accessible, seasonal, ethnic cuisine, and empowering women to join the male-dominated realm of professional cooking. “We ditched the patriarchy long ago,” Milliken recalls, “and took charge of our own destiny.”
After graduating from Washburne Culinary Institute in Chicago, Milliken worked her way up and became the first female chef at Le Perroquet in 1978—where she soon met Susan Feniger. Following, she cooked at the woman-owned, two-Michelin-star Restaurant D’Olympe in Paris, before rejoining Feniger in L.A. to launch City Café in 1981, applying French techniques to unfamiliar dishes from around the world. The culinary pair found further acclaim with CITY Restaurant in 1985, and captured the hearts of Angelenos with Border Grill’s ’85 debut, evidenced by a James Beard Award the same year.
Milliken and Feniger brought their innovative approaches to The Food Network with the “Too Hot Tamales” and “Tamales World Tour” series, along with the Los Angeles’ popular food-centric radio show, KCRW’s “Good Food.” In 2011, Milliken competed on season three of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” and won $40,000 for her chosen charity, Share Our Strength. She has also co-authored five cookbooks.
Milliken uses her platform to enact societal change, serving on the boards of Share Our Strength and the James Beard Foundation. She joined other progressives to found Women Chefs & Restaurateurs and Chefs Collaborative, and in 2020 she helped co-found Regarding Her, a national non-profit on a mission to advance women-identifying and nonbinary food and beverage entrepreneurs and leaders by way of innovative programs that UpliftHER Business, SupportHER Community, and AdvocateHER Industry. Mary Sue was selected to join the U.S. State Department on the American Chef Corps to promote diplomacy through food in Pakistan, Malta, and Italy. Her passion for sustainability led her to work with L.A. Food Policy Council, Pew Charitable Trusts, Oxfam, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and others.
In 2018, Feniger and Milliken were named the recipients of the fourth annual Julia Child Award from The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, marking the first women to be honored. The distinction complements additional accolades, including the Elizabeth Burns Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Restaurant Association in 2013; earned induction into Menu Masters Hall of Fame in 2014; and the 2018 Gold Award from the Los Angeles Times for culinary excellence and innovation in Southern California.