Celebrity Chef Susan Feniger Dishes on Her New Street Food Book
The L.A. toque, a veteran of the Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales” and Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” explores global street cuisine in an accessible new volume.
When Susan Feniger opened her upmarket global street cuisine restaurant, Street, three years ago in south Hollywood, many criticized how she had brought lowbrow staples into a distinctly high-minded, higher-priced context. Now, she’s upping the ante, bringing that same food into the home. "Many street vendors start out with 'Oh my gosh, my grandmother made this fabulous dish.' And then, all of a sudden, now you’re doing it at a little stand on the street," Feniger says.
Many of the recipes she features in her book Susan Feniger’s Street Food: Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes (Clarkson Potter), out today, and at her restaurant were originally family recipes that people realized they could make money with. Bringing those recipes back to the home is merely completing a full circle. "Food is all about people and their lives and their home and their family, and that’s how you end up with street vendors."
Her book features recipes from India, Vietnam and Mexico. "You always try to push people a little bit so they expand their horizons but you also don’t want to do something that’s going to scare them," she says of her approach to the recipe selection. Several of the recipes are familiar dishes with a unique twist, like Burmese melon salad that’s marinated in lime, soy and olive oil and finished with coconut and lime leaf. "A recipe is a road map," Feniger says. "If you don’t have [a particular] ingredient you don’t have to freak out and not do the dish. It’s meant to be fun and creative."
Feniger began her career in a French kitchen, but, following her first trip to India, she was transformed as a chef. "After seeing it and being excited and inspired by the flavor profiles — by the spices, by the sensory overload that can happen there — I think that changed the direction of where I went with food, and [I] turned into being a much more eclectic chef." She later went on to found, along with her longtime friend and business partner Mary Sue Milliken, a slew of new-guard L.A. Mexican restaurants, including the Border Grill. (Michael Eisner is currently developing a show about their early years in business together.)
Although Feniger’s inspired by the Indian cuisine, she’s made sure that her book and her restaurant have a balanced menu — which means a geographically hop-scotching one. "We don’t want to be all-India or all-Vietnam," she says. "We want to pull from Eastern Europe, southeast Asia, the southern United States."
Below, the Burmese Gin Thoke Melon Salad.
Chicken and waffles croquettes with a spicy maple sauce, which is a popular dish at Feniger's restaurant Street.