Cooking Classes and Foodie Film Discussion Draw Crowds to The Huntington

Celebrated Los Angeles chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken — creators of Border Grill’s authentic modern Mexican cuisine and two of Bon Appétit’s three chef-partners at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens — have been hosting demonstration-style cooking classes with freely flowing margaritas at their downtown location for years.

Chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger clowning around in the Border Grill class

When District Manager Fabio Soto and Huntington Hospitality General Manager Sarah Geana decided to launch the new culinary event series at the San Marino, CA, cultural hub, the Border Grill class was a natural trial balloon. The exclusive one-night-only dinner salon sold out in just hours!

Fans of Susan and Mary Sue’s Too Hot Tamales show flocked to the live show-plus-dinner to see them prepare some of their signature dishes on stage. Guests enjoyed lavender-lemon margaritas and tomatillo guacamole with chili-lime crackers while waiting for the show to start, then dined on Peruvian ceviche with pickled onions, Yucatecan pork with corn tortillas, green rice, and plantain empanadas, followed by churros with whipped crema, dulce de leche, and chocolate sauce. Everyone received a booklet with the complete menu’s recipes, and dozens stood in line to buy cookbooks and have them signed by the dynamic pair of chefs.

Huntington Executive Chef Marc Powers and Regional Executive Chef Peter Alfaro putting the final touches on the Border Grill ceviche

A month later, Huntington Hospitality hosted a very special screening of the brand-new documentary, James Beard: America’s First Foodie, followed by a panel discussion and reception. Dubbed “the Dean of American Cookery” by the New York Times, this cookbook author, journalist, television celebrity, and teacher was a Portland, OR, native who loved and celebrated the bounty of the Pacific Northwest long before it would become hip to be a “locavore.” In the film, a veritable who’s who of the food world — from Alice Waters to Jacques Pépin, Martha Stewart, and Wolfgang Puck — share memories and recall Beard’s influence on the modern culinary scene.

After the hourlong screening, James Beard Award winner Mary Sue joined Producer/Director Beth Federici, Producer Kathleen Squires, and well-known pastry chef and Beard buddy Jim Dodge (Bon Appétit’s director of specialty culinary programs) for a short discussion of what Beard meant to them. Beard Award–winning Oakland food writer John Birdsall, who is working on a major new biography of Beard, moderated the free-form discussion. Jim brought down the house with his personal anecdotes about Beard’s physical exhibitionism, lack of culinary confidence, and notorious ability to dine out everywhere without ever spending a cent.

Bon Appétit’s Director of Specialty Culinary Programs Jim Dodge signs a book for a fan after regaling the crowd with tales of Beard’s eccentricities

The discussion was followed by a reception with a menu of Beard-inspired appetizers planned by Mary Sue and Bon Appétit Executive Chef Marc Powers, including Beard’s onion tea sandwiches with house-made mayonnaise and parsley (featured in the film), GoneStraw Farms chicken crêpes with sauce suprême, escargots à la bourguignonne with grilled brioche, Roman lamb burgers, strawberry shortcake, and blueberry rolls. Guests lingered far past the designated event ending time, dancing to live music and quizzing the filmmakers about all the scenes they had been forced to leave out to make the one-hour runtime.

James Beard: America’s First Foodie is now available for viewing as part of PBS’s American Masters series.