From Korean BBQ taco trucks to Jamaican jerk chicken carts, street food is among the hottest trends in the culinary world. And no one knows it better than Susan Feniger, whose LA restaurant, STREET, changed the game when it opened three years ago. At The Taste, we sat down with the Top Chef Masters finalist to discuss the appeal of street eats, spicing up your own kitchen skills and the future of food.
MADE MAN: You’ve opened more than half a dozen restaurants in your career. What’s the story behind STREET?
SUSAN FENIGER: My first restaurant was CITY, which was inspired by my first trip to India and Bangkok. Then I fell in love with the Latin kitchen and opened up Border Grill about 25 years ago with Mary Sue Milliken. Five years ago I wanted to do something Southeast Asian or Indian and came full circle by opening STREET. I think part of what draws me to street food is the relationships that happen.
Every culture has all these wonderful flavors. The techniques are the same. Marinate your chicken as usual, but with different spices.
MM: How so?
SF: You’re sitting on a street in Vietnam eating in some neighborhood, and all of a sudden that person is so blown away that you’re eating on the street that you often get invited into their home. I love the relationships that happen when you’re on the street, at the street market, everything about that. Even as a young kid I lived with a family in a tiny town in Holland and later lived on a kibbutz in Israel. I love people and travel… it’s my passion, something very close to my heart.
MM: Eating at STREET feels like I’m taking a trip around the world. Is that a typical experience?
SF: A lot of people do come into the restaurant and feel like they’re traveling. It brings up things: where someone has been, what they ate, did they eat on the street or go into a market? It’s interesting. Lots of people are talking in between tables about travel and food.
MM: Did you start cooking at a young age?
SF: I did. You know, my sister, she’s the worst cook and hates to cook. My mom was a fantastic cook and we always had people at our house, always. She didn’t sleep much and I don’t sleep much. It would be like 10 o’clock at night and she’d be making cheese dreams with Velveeta cheese and white bread rolled up, or little toasts with peanut butter, jelly and chutney or bacon bits. She was really a great cook.
MM: You also have a new cookbook, Susan Feniger’s Street Food. Does it have any recipes from your restaurant?
SF: Yes, lots of the recipes are on the menu at STREET. I’m so excited about it and it’s full of amazing photography by Jennifer May. It was such a great experience, we shot it all at our house. Scattered throughout are fun stories from my travels in India, Turkey and around the world.
MM: How can guys spice up their own cooking, whether they’re creating a dish for a date or just for themselves?
SF: Every culture has all these wonderful flavors. It’s just about going into an ethnic market or shopping online. It really is such a global world now. The techniques are the same. Marinate your chicken as usual, but with different spices. Pick out three or four spices at a time and see what happens.
MM: What direction do you see food headed in the next 10 years?
SF: I’ve always been a big fan of the vegetarian movement. I think we’ll see more and more of a demand for vegetarian and vegan cuisine. We serve a ton of veggie stuff at all of our restaurants. The great thing about vegetarian cuisine now is that more chefs are realizing a vegetarian dish doesn’t have to be just a boring plate of vegetables. People want a great dish, whether it has meat in it or not.
Photography: Stephanie Nelson