Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger are the 2014 MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductees, Nation’s Restaurant News announced on Monday.

The co-owners and co-chefs of Border Grill Restaurants and Truck, based in Los Angeles, have spent decades nourishing their guests with food from around the world, and educating and entertaining them with five cookbooks and numerous television appearances.

The MenuMasters Awards are produced by Nation’s Restaurant News and sponsored by Ventura Foods. They honor outstanding menu development, as well as excellence in foodservice research and development. The editorial board of Nation’s Restaurant News selects the winners.

This year’s winning pair, widely known as the “Too Hot Tamales,” from their Food Network shows in the 1990s, began breaking new ground with their first restaurant, City Café, in Los Angeles in 1981. There they parted from fine-dining tradition by serving food that wasn’t French and focused instead on home-cooked food from around the world.

In 1985, inspired by the food made by their Mexican cooks for staff meal, they took a road trip south of the border and ate their way across Mexico, learning from market vendors and farm cooks.

They returned to Los Angeles and opened Border Grill, which now has four locations in Los Angeles — including one at Los Angeles International airport and a grab-and-go kiosk called Border Grill Stop — and one in Las Vegas. They also now have a Border Grill Truck, which is used mostly for catering. From 1998 to 2010, they also operated Ciudad in Los Angeles, which served Latin food from Mexico and beyond.

Feniger went on to open her first solo venture, globally inspired Street, which was recently revamped and renamed Mud Hen Tavern.

Both chefs continue to make television appearances on shows such as Top Chef Masters, and Feniger recently had a cameo appearance as herself on the Fox TV show Bones.

Both women also play leading roles in charities, including hunger relief organization Share Our Strength and the Scleroderma Research Foundation, which is seeking a cure for the degenerative disease of connective tissue. Feniger is also a board member of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center.

Feniger and Milliken are also active in helping to safeguard natural resources, and their restaurants only serve seafood deemed sustainable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

Feniger and Milliken will be honored at the annual MenuMasters gala, an invitation-only celebration held this year at the Drake Hotel in Chicago on May 17.

“As a company committed to culinary leadership, we welcome the chance to honor these outstanding chefs for their work carving a niche in authentic Mexican cuisine but also their devotion to creating a sustainable food environment and their support of charitable organizations. We look forward to celebrating at the Menu Masters event in May,” Ventura Foods senior vice president Jim Goggin said.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
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