Susan Feniger and Liz Lachman pop. I first encountered their mutual hurricane of wit at the Del Mar Wine + Food Festival. They were setting up their table to cook. It looked like a movie set. Lachman immediately cordoned me, made me one of her own. Both of them struck me as whip-smart, funny, alive.
James Beard Award–winning chef Feniger and Emmy-winning filmmaker Lachman join us this week on Happy Half Hour, our podcast exploring the world and people of food. They talk life and art and their new documentary film, Susan Feniger: Forked.
They’re in San Diego tomorrow to screen Forked at the Coronado Island Film Festival. They’ll watch it with the crowd of food and film people, do a Q&A, cook some food, share some food, shoot the shit.
They’ve been married for a long while, so Forked is Lachman capturing Feniger’s life and creative process on film as only a partner could. All Feniger’s defenses are dropped. We get to see one of the country’s top chefs with her quirks and impulses laid out, vulnerable, as she takes on the maddening process of concepting a restaurant, then bringing it to life from scratch and begging the city to approve everything in a sane amount of time.
Feniger has been to the mountain in the chef world. In the ’80s, she was invited by her friend (and eventual restaurant partner) Mary Sue Milliken to not-so-casually break the gender barrier in a very fancy Chicago restaurant (the chef had told Milliken he didn’t hire women in the kitchen, period—she proved him wrong and brought Feniger along).
The duo left to open their own restaurant in LA, Border Grill, which would become very famous and catnippy for food lovers. The duo—who bicker and play beautifully—were among the early stars of Food Network, making more than 400 episodes of their TV show, Too Hot Tamales. Feniger worked under Wolfgang Puck when he was merely a free-jazzing, mellow-cool Austrian chef making waves in LA. One day, when Border Grill’s buzz in the city was just heating up, Julia Child walked in. She and Feniger became friends.
And then, after a long and fruitful working relationship with Milliken, Feniger decided it was time to do her own thing. She embarked on the seemingly endless, intricate, frustrating-as-hell road to opening another LA restaurant, Street, with a different creative partner.
This is what Forked documents. It straps us to Feniger’s back as she grits and hustles to execute a new dream. And she burns the salmon. Dear god, she burns the salmon. Chefs like her occasionally burn salmon.
Susan Feinger: Forked will screen on Nov. 10 at 10 a.m. at the Coronado Island Film Festival.