Interview with Susan Feniger

Celebrity chef and out lesbian Susan Feniger is the author of several cookbooks and star of Food Network’s long-running series, Too Hot Tamales. Most recently, Feniger was the last female chef standing on Top Chef Masters. Her latest venture, Street, a Hollywood restaurant offering global street vendor foods, is her first solo foray into the business of eating. She recently talked to us about her restaurant, her experiences competing on Top Chef Masters, and how she ended up making an inexplicable appearance on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Congratulations on your great run on Top Chef Masters! What was that experience like?

Susan Feniger:
You know what? I never wanted to do it. I had no desire to do it. I turned it down the first time. It’s not in my nature to do competition shows.

AE: Really? I went to IMDb and I’m not so sure about that.
SF: What did it say there? Oh God!

AE: Well of course there was your hit show Too Hot Tamales, which you hosted with long-time cooking partner Mary Sue Milliken. You also appeared on Hell’s Kitchen, The Next Food Network Star, should I go on?

SF: Oh yeah, but on all those I’m judging! But this was for a charity. I felt really great about doing this. I did it for the Scleroderma Research Foundation. I lost my closest friend to the disease and I do a big huge fundraiser called "Cool Comedy Hot Cuisine" with Bob Saget. I’ve done it for 21 years. Robin Williams has done it, like, eight times.
So doing Top Chef Masters is great. It puts you into Bravo world which is fantastic. I just didn’t want to be eliminated in round one! I won $32,500 for scleroderma which was really great. Also, it’s unbelievable how many people watch that show!

AE: Obviously, the show is a competition, but as you were all established food gurus competing for charity, was the environment a supportive one?

SF: I just wouldn’t be in the frame of mind to be bad-mouthing anyone in that situation. No, everyone was great.

AE: Has your new restaurant, Street, been flooded with business?

SF: Yes, Street and Border Grill have felt the impact. I went out on the Kaya Toast [on the show] and so many people have come in to say, "You were robbed," because that is literally everyone’s favorite dish! The fact that I lost on it has caused more interest than if I’d won on it.

AE: Is it just me, or are a lot of female chefs gay?

SF: Uh, I think, I don’t know if there are a lot, or if I just know a lot. There seem to be quite a few women chefs that are gay, but you know, there are a number that aren’t. It seems like there are more in San Fran than in LA. I think half and half.

It’s a rigorous profession, very demanding. It could have been, years ago, more gay women did it because they weren’t having kids, but you can’t say that anymore. I don’t know.

AE: Maybe lesbians are just better at cooking.

SF: I don’t think so.

AE: This is a lesbian website! Say "yes." People will love it!

SF: You say it!

AE: Consider it said.

SF: I’m sure it’s a gross generalization but … you get burned all the time, your nails are always crappy. You have to be a rough, tough girl whether you’re straight or gay. I think it’s a fantastic career.

I feel incredibly lucky to have found a profession where I go to work every day and I absolutely love it. Like, I was in India with my mouth hanging open just learning and learning. It’s a great career where you are feeding people and nurturing and giving back.