The Daily Meal caught up with chef Mary Sue Milliken to learn about how her travels have influenced her work. Milliken is the co-chef owner of the critically acclaimed Border Grill Restaurants and Truck (it made was #39 on this year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list). Along with Susan Feniger (who we’ve also spoken to), she has starred on Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales” and Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.”
The Daily Meal: What has been your most inspirational food experience while traveling?
Mary Sue Milliken: I have food travel memories that play like a slideshow in my head: the legless man on a street corner in Bangkok pounding a delicious green papaya salad in a mortar, the baby lamb shanks cooked in an inverted automobile hood over a roaring fire in rural Ethiopia, making venison tartar from a roe buck we hunted on a Mongolian camping trip, massive coils of Toulouse sausage searing over smoldering grape vines in southwest France and served with freshly picked chanterelles and cepes, as well as arriving to our destination in Yorkshire, England late, cold and starving with nothing to eat but a bag of potatoes and a side of bacon – but making a memorable feast for 2 families from just those two ingredients.
And on our first research trip to Mexico in 1984 to create the Border Grill menu, I vividly remember a jolly chef in the window of a restaurant in Merida caught my eye. He was making seafood tacos (crab or lobster or shrimp or poached fish) and piling each warm tortilla high with radish slices, peas, avocado, chilies, a drizzle of bitter orange juice and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. They went straight onto the Border Grill menu and have been there ever since.
TDM: What’s your favorite kitchen souvenir from your travels?
MSM: I lugged a big, brass cowbell home from Ethiopia that I use to signal “dinner time” at my house. I love that bell – actually I love all bells and have quite a few from around the world.
TDM: If you could eat your way through one country, which one would it be and why?
MSM: I would like to eat my way through any country that I have yet to visit. On my short list are Bhutan, Brazil, India, Madagascar, and Portugal. In a month, I will be going to a tiny island off the east coast of Scotland with my family and some friends to pick and grill mussels on the beach.