10 QUESTIONS WITH CHEF... TODD ENGLISH
By Susan Reynolds
Prior to his cooking demo as a member of the Macy’s Culinary Council in the Cellar at Macy’s Union Square, celebrity chef Todd English, clad in black pants and a black dress shirt, sounds like any other guy who travels a lot for a living. “I’m still on East Coast time,” he says, sipping a cup of coffee from Boudin Bakery. Despite being named one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” in 2001, English has a slightly quirky, self-deprecating sense of humor, smiling and greeting fans who recognize him from television shows such as the Food Network’s Iron Chef and PBS’s Cooking Under Fire, the groundbreaking 2005 chef competition reality series (think Top Chef without the glitz and a whole lot tougher).
It turns out English and I have a few things in common – we’re both Italian on our mother’s side, we’ve both spent a lot of time gorging ourselves on steamers in New England (he lives in Massachusetts), and we both count fried baloney sandwiches among our favorite childhood foods (we high-fived over that one).
Jet lagged as he was, English still managed to entertain and educate the audience, all while whipping up a phenomenal lobster stock-based minestrone soup from scratch. After the demo, he grabbed his copy of Northside San Francisco’s “Top 11 New Places to Eat” and asked me to recommend a spot to take his crew for dinner. I suggested Yoshi’s. He nodded and smiled, “Yoshi’s is great.” Second wind intact, he waved goodbye and disappeared into a sea of shiny All Clad.
Current projects: Beso, the Spanish restaurant that he opened with Desperate Housewives’ star Eva Longoria Parker on March 6, 2008; new PBS series, Food Trip, a culinary tour around the world; new book, the artisan Todd’s Table; bringing outposts of his upscale pizzeria, Figs, to select Macy’s Cellars.
Fun fact: Todd races sports cars, writes music, plays guitar, and sings. He also appeared Off Broadway in a production called Chef’s Theater. (“It lasted two weeks but it was a blast.”)
Last thing you cooked for yourself?
I almost never cook for myself, unless I’m cooking for friends or family. I’m a bit crazy on Sundays – I’ll make a huge batch of gumbo with lobster, oysters, rabbit, and andouille, and serve it on brown basmati rice.
Favorite food from your childhood?
I grew up partly in the south – fried baloney sandwiches!
How would you describe working in your kitchen?
We have fun; fun is big. But we’re also focused.
Something in your fridge or freezer that would surprise people?
There’s a lack of anything in there. (Smiles) Rotten cheese … and not the noble rotten.
A meal or a dish that, as a young chef, was an inspiration or a revelation?
I worked with Jean-Jacques Rachou at La Côte Basque in New York – his cassoulet.
Last restaurant you ate at?
The Slanted Door, today, for lunch.
The dish on your menu that will follow you wherever you go?
Tortelli of butternut squash with brown butter and sage.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Peanut M&M’s and caviar.
What would your last meal on earth be and where would you have it?
I would do it in courses with pairings: I’d start with a kilo of beluga caviar with all the fixins – blini, toast points, potatoes – paired with a 1947 Dom Rosé. Next I’d have a huge platter of my nanny’s fried chicken with a 1961 La Tâche DRC; for dessert, a huge bittersweet pots de crème with a 1947 Cheval Blanc and an 1889 tawny port. Then I’d dive into a barrel of Armagnac and just drink it all. I’d do it all in the hills of Tuscany.
For more information on Todd English, visit www.toddenglish.com; for more information on the Macy’s Culinary Council, visit www.macys.com/culinarycouncil.
Have a favorite chef you’d like to see interviewed? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org