You’ll be here for the Austin Food & Wine Festival from April 26-27. What can festivalgoers expect from your demos?
I’m coming to do a really big demo from my new cookbook. I’m going to be doing recipes like a great ginger and lemon cocktail with ginger simple syrup. I’m going to do the Indian-spiced millet puffs and Malaysia black pepper clams and Tunisia chicken kebabs with currants and olives and an Egyptian street food called kushary.
I’m also going to be doing a book signing. I love that it tells my travel stories. My partner Liz Lachman was my co-writer. She’s a writer director so I forced her into helping!
How did your upbringing impact your passion for cooking?
My mom was a fantastic cook. It seemed like we had people at our house all the time, so she was literally always cooking. She had really great taste buds. Some people just naturally really have it, and she did. She didn’t eat anything, she was thin as could be, but she was a great cook.
Do you find inspiration from your mom’s cooking in your own cooking?
For sure, I was influenced a lot by her sensibility about food. She knew how to taste things.
How have your cooking techniques evolved through the years?
I started working seriously in restaurants when I started at the Culinary Institute about 35 years ago. I started working in strict French restaurants where I learned a lot about technique. In ‘81, I opened City Cafe, and that was taking my French training and putting it into a tiny cafe, which was very country French. Then I took my first trip to India 30 years ago and that really changed the direction of the type of food I was passionate about. The kind of food I was drawn to was ethnic and had strong flavors, and ever since then it sort of moved into different directions. Street, my newest restaurant, is all locally inspired food from all around the world.
You’re a veteran TV chef, from appearing on Cooking with Master Chefs to Too Hot Tamales. Do you miss having your own food show?
I do a bunch of judging on TV, so I still feel like I’m on TV a lot. It was great having a regular show, but it was pretty grueling work. When we did Too Hot Tamales, we taped over 400 shows! I still do a fair amount of TV, without having my own show.
You’re an avid supporter of Scleroderma Research Foundation and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center. What sparked your nonprofit activism?
I feel like it’s important to give back to your community no matter what, whether it’s the straight or gay community. I’m on the board of the largest gay and lesbian center in the world, which has a fantastic and inspirational board. I feel like the work we do is amazing in the causes we help, like providing HIV medical care, supporting our senior LGBT folks and teens who get kicked out of their homes.
I became involved with the Scleroderma Research Foundation because my college roommate was diagnosed with the disease. She was a wonderful spirit.
What projects are you currently working on?
My latest project is opening up a Border Grill at LAX to open in the summer. I will launch a new website with lots of great video my partner Liz shot. We’re trying to look at a product line and maybe a TV show, but you never know about that stuff happening.
Feniger will make an appearance at Auditorium Shores Saturday morning, April 27 and at Republic Square Park for the “Rock Your Taco Showdown” on Saturday morning, April 27. More details at austinfoodandwinefestival.com