Our new series brings together two chefs who have cooked up great friendships. The first installment features two James Beard Award winners: Traci Des Jardins – whose San Francisco restaurants include Jardiniere, The Commissary, and Arguello – and Mary Sue Milliken, who is one half of the culinary powerhouse behind Border Grill locations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. We got them talking about how they met and some of their many escapades.
Mary Sue Milliken: In 1995, the Spanish government took a group of chefs on an intimate, five-star culinary adventure. I was very excited, but I didn’t know who else was going to be on the trip. I met Traci right as we were checking into the hotel. There are those people you meet in life who you realize had the same childhood and adolescence as you did. We grew up the same way in the same industry.
Traci Des Jardins: We were both really driven overachievers within our families and left home early. We shared the common experience of being in hyper-male kitchens.
MSM: We just bonded over pretty much everything. At the end of the trip, we joked we needed to go to Betty Ford before we went back to our kitchens.
TDJ: We started talking every other day and traveling together. I would be invited on all these culinary trips, so I would always say, ‘Okay, but you have to invite Mary Sue as well’ and she’d say the same thing when she was invited. That’s how we would spend time together.
MSM: We took trips to New York City, California wine country, Tokyo, and Chile.
TDJ: I quickly learned that Mary Sue wasn’t just a great chef; she was also a great businesswoman. That was incredibly helpful for me at that juncture because I hadn’t opened my own restaurant yet. To this day, if I have a question about a contract or a negotiation or how much I’m getting paid for something, Mary Sue is one of the first people I call.
MSM: During those early times, it was not a one-way street because I would learn things from Traci about cooking, how she organized her kitchen, how she kept her staff motivated, and how she approached events and overcame cooking challenges. On top of that, we love cooking together. It’s very natural and normal. I’m always happy to take a backseat. If I feel like we’re going in the wrong direction, I’ll put my foot down, but generally, we are very simpatico in the kitchen. There’s no ego. It’s always really fun.Continue Reading