Chef Mary Sue Milliken on Food Waste


Continuing our celebration of LA Food Bowl 2017, we interviewed Chef Mary Sue Milliken at the Food For Soul panel on Friday May 6, 2017. 

The LA Times hosted it's first ever LA Food Bowl, a celebration of the local LA food scene while also highlighting issues of food waste, hunger, and sustainability. Chefs Mario Batali, Massimo Bottura, Roy Choi, Dominique Crenn, and Mary Sue Milliken spoke at a group panel at the Theater at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. There, they discussed issues of food waste and shared their projects of which they are working on to combat this issue. LA food critic Jonathan Gold moderated the talk.

Mary Sue Milliken is one of the first female celebrity chefs in the United States, having starred in over 400 episodes on the Food Network and also co-authored five cookbooks. A Los Angeles local, Mary is most well known for City Café, CITY, and Border Grill. She received the prestigious James Beard Award in 1985 and also happens to be a frequent GR visitor.

Video interview with Chef Mary Sue Miliken.


By George Ko

Photo and Video by George Ko


GR: During the panel discussion you mentioned cooking with fish that are normally discarded or not used for cooking. Do you mind talking about that?

Mary: There are a lot of fish that are caught called "bycatch." it's the fish when you put the net down and you get a lot of extra fish that you're not after. Oftentimes in the past they would just throw it out. Chefs have gotten together and have been really adamant in finding a use for those fish, especially the ones that are delicious. There's also an invasive species called lionfish that is really important that we eat more of because the more we can get out of the water, the better. So, we're making lionfish and rockfish,  different kinds of smaller fish. Smaller down the food chain is also more sustainable.

I'm very committed to the health of our oceans and trying to figure out how to make those things sexy, that people might not otherwise order on a menu. Everybody wants tuna, salmon, and shrimp. But I challenge you to break out of the norm and order anything except those three.


GR: What's the most delicious dish you have tasted made from food waste?

M: You know it's interesting because so much of our food culture has come from waste, really, and creating something delicious out of leftovers. When chips go stale and salsa is on the edge, you can put them together to make chilaquiles and garnish it with anything you have in the refrigerator, from chicken to cheese to a little cilantro, onions. Chilaquiles is the perfect hangover thing too in the morning. I love them.

Also, I have a big garden at my house. I grow beets— I mean I don't grow anything my husband grows them. There are beautiful beats, and chard. The stems! You don't realize how great they are. I make a beat stem pie, with just the stems, not the leaves, not the beat, but the stems! With lots of garlic, I chop them up into a pie and it's really yummy. I think we just have to look at food in a different way. Look at it and value every piece of it, so that we can find a use for it and keep on progressing because it's important not to waste food.


GR: What's your go to place in Los Angeles?

M: I love that Los Angeles has some fabulous little hidden-gem restaurants. It's because traffic has gotten so bad and no one wants to drive across town to eat at a really good restaurant. So, restaurants have sprung up in  every single neighborhood. In my neighborhood I can walk to Lodge Bread and Pizza Company. Those guys, Alex and Or, are making the most incredible pizza and the most incredible bread. For me, I can walk to the end of my block and eat there. That's pretty much a godsend.

Chef Mary Sue Milliken (left) with Chef Mario Batali (middle) and LA Times critic Jonathan Gold (right) at the Food For Soul Panel. Photo courtesy of the LA Times and Dan Steinberg.

Chef Mary Sue Milliken (left) with Chef Mario Batali (middle) and LA Times critic Jonathan Gold (right) at the Food For Soul Panel. Photo courtesy of the LA Times and Dan Steinberg.


GR: Do you have a favorite Asian place?

M: I am an Asian food freak! Whenever I eat it I almost always want either Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian, or Vietnamese. K-Zo in Culver City is one of my favorites. I love the octopus carpaccio, which I think is one of the best dishes in town. I also love going to K-Town and having Kobawoo. It's one of my favorite ones. I love to pop in there and have the bo ssam with the pork. Oh my gosh, it's fantastic! My favorite Thai restaurant moved to Vegas. It was Renu Nakorn in Norwalk. I know the owners really well. I mean, Renu Nakorn is still there, but the owners moved to Vegas. So, I go to Vegas all the time because I have a Border Grill in Vegas. So I like to eat there. But I'll drive far for good Asian food. I love okonomiyaki, ramen, all the Korean things from the bone broth to kimchi jigae— I really love Asian food. I told my husband the other day I should just move to Asia, because I could eat it every single day. I love rice in the morning, rice in the afternoon, and rice at night.


GR: You should come try the places in Sawtelle Japantown sometime.

M: I come up to Sawtelle a lot. I grocery shop at Nijiya all the time because I love the herb selection.


GR: Any advice for limiting food waste?

M: My one piece of advice for everyone is to just be conscious. Really think that about every time you're spending your money you are voting for something. If you're not paying attention, that's making a statement. And I know it's a lot to take in, but everything we support, every penny we spend, is spent on certain things that you need to believe in. I would just say: just be conscious. Just think about it and make the decisions that make you feel good and make you proud of them.


GR: Cool! Thanks for doing this interview with Giant Robot Media.

M: My pleasure I love Giant Robot!


Check out Mary's Restaurants here.