Mark Hollger was born in a small wine town in southern Germany just before the start of WWII, in the late 1930s. At the age of 15, his mother said to him, “you’re interested in eating, perhaps you’d be interested in cooking?” He began his apprenticeship first in the pastry kitchens, then fish station, then on to soups and sauces of major hotels in Frankfurt, Germany, Lucerne, Switzerland, Stockholm, Sweden and London, England. He then worked his way around as chef at resorts in the islands, ending up in Bermuda. From there he thought it might be a short jump from Bermuda to Texas, where he found something different, Mexican food, and how to make a good margarita.
In 1977, he flipped a coin to see whether to go to Las Vegas or New Orleans. He went to work at Brennan’s in the French Quarter, not as a cook but as a waiter to learn the front of the house.
In 1984, Chef Hollger and his wife opened Santa Fe Mexican Restaurant on the other side of the French Quarter. When folks asked him how a German could cook Mexican food, he reminded them that German Kaiser Maximilian ruled Mexico from 1864 until he died in 1867. The Great Chefs crew showed up in 1993 to tape Chef Hollger for their Great Chefs, the Louisiana New Garde television series for the Discovery Channel, and he is seen in episodes 11 and 16.
In 2003, experiencing health problems, Chef Hollger sold the restaurant and retired to North Carolina. After Hurricane Katrina, one of his cooks opened another Santa Fe restaurant in a different location with the same menu. It has since been taken over several times with new chefs trying to replicate Chef Hollger’s dishes and margaritas.