Dinner Takes All
By Maria Pilar Clark
By incorporating unique ingredients into his Italian and Mediterranean cooking styles, celebrity chef Todd English brings a unique approach to his restaurants around the world.
Throughout his whirlwind career, Todd English has earned numerous accolades, publishing three cookbooks, in addition to establishing Olives, one of the most-recognized restaurant brands in the nation.
English started his cooking career at the age of 15, and by age 20, he was honing his craft at the Culinary Institute of America. In 1982, he graduated with honors and relocated to Italy to undertake an apprenticeship. There, he drew from his own Italian heritage to develop his unique cooking style. Five years later, English returned to the United States and put his distinctive approach into practice.
His creative style paid off. In 1991, he was named the James Beard Foundation’s National Rising Star Chef. Three years later, the foundation recognized English as the Best Chef in the Northeast. In 2001, Bon Appetit magazine named him its Restaurateur of the Year. That same year, he was named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People.
Olives has attracted international appreciation for its interpretive rustic Mediterranean menu. Founded in Charlestown, Mass., Olives today has locations in New York; Las Vegas; Washington, D.C.; Aspen, Colo.; and even Tokyo.
Olives’ casual sister restaurant, Figs, has three locations in the greater Boston area and one based at New York’s La Guardia airport. It serves traditional and eclectic pizzas, handmade pastas and inventive salads. English’s other restaurants include Connecticut-based Tuscany, which serves Italian-inspired cuisine and pays homage to English’s Italian roots; Bonfire, a Boston steakhouse; Kingfish Hall in Boston’s Historic Faneuil Hall; Fish Club in Seattle; bluezoo at the Walt Disney Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, Fla.; and restaurant Todd English aboard the Cunard Lineís Queen Mary II, which specializes in elegant interpretive Mediterranean food.
English recently partnered with the Grain Foods Foundation to develop signature barbeque sandwiches sure to please any creative palate. Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery asked him to answer some of the foodservice industry’s most burning questions regarding consumer bread trends and the creative use of high-end ingredients, as well as what it’s like to be a celebrity chef.
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery: What is your take on the idea of fad dieting?
Todd English: Fad dieting is the worst. I don’t even like dieting. There is really nothing out there that you can’t eat, as long as it’s in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. It’s so important to concentrate on eating foods that are nutrient-rich and satisfying.
SF&WB: What kinds of bread do you incorporate into your dining concepts? What breads pair well with different foods, such as fish, meat or vegetables?
English: Pizza is definitely one of my signature dishes. We flavor our dough with lots of olive oil and rosemary. As far as bread pairings, for meat I always choose something rustic like a sourdough, as it is neutral and doesn’t dominate; it’s also great for soaking up sauces. For fish, choose something lighter like a toasted brioche.
SF&WB: Have you noticed any bread trends when it comes to sandwiches or entrees? What breads are consumers looking for in bread baskets?
English: The best trend I can see is that bread is back. We have moved on from that awful “carb-phobic” era, and people are appreciating the nutritional benefits of bread and allowing themselves to enjoy it. Pressed panini sandwiches are also still very big.
As far as bread baskets, people are really loving salted items: homemade salted focaccia, pretzel loafs and the like. But I think that with bread baskets in restaurants, it is about what is served with the bread, getting more creative than butter or olive oil. At my restaurants, we serve the bread with different olive tapenades.
SF&WB: What current trends are impacting the dessert category?
English: It is all about interpretation. Chefs take traditional desserts and re-interpret them on the plate. Another big thing is taking flavors from childhood such as cotton candy and adding some grown-up flavors for a whole new kind of dessert.
SF&WB: What is your take on eclectic or gourmet pizzas versus “traditional” pies such as plain cheese, pepperoni or sausage?
English: [At my restaurants], the pizzas, which we refer to as flatbreads, really run the gamut. Obviously, I love pizzas, which rely on fresh yet simple and traditional ingredients, but I also love getting creative. For example, two of my favorite flatbreads we do at Olives now are sweet summer corn with lobster and mascarpone, and escargot with goat cheese, brown butter and lemon zest.
SF&WB: What is your favorite kind of pizza? Alternately, what kinds of toppings should never top a pizza?
English: I’ll always be partial to Pepe’s white clam pizza in New Haven, Conn. As far as ingredients, I don’t really think anything is off-limits as long as it makes sense with the other ingredients and tastes good.
SF&WB: How does your Italian heritage influence your cooking style?
English: My grandmother and mother taught me how to cook and to love and appreciate the culture of food. My cooking philosophy is “use common ingredients in uncommon ways.” It’s about knowing and holding on to tradition and then building upon it.
SF&WB: What is it like to be a world-famous celebrity chef? What keeps you grounded in your day-to-day life?
English: My kids definitely keep me grounded. They don’t care about all the celebrity stuff and will tell me when something tastes good or doesn’t. They’re my best critics and best teachers. SF&WB
Executive chef and restaurateur Todd English has developed a range of innovative and eclectic BBQ recipes for the Grain Foods Foundation. For more recipe ideas, visit www.grainpower.org.
Pretzel Roll Andouille Hot Dog With Whipped Black Eye Pea Spread, Crispy Okra, Relish And Mustard
12 each Andouille sausage links, 6 to 8 oz. each
3 cups black eyed peas, cooked
1/2 cup Buttermilk
1 cup Flour
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 lbs okra
2 cups bright green relish
1 cup Dijon mustard
2 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves sliced garlic
1 bunch rosemary chopped fine
2 tbsp roasted garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tsp red wine vinegar
12 each salted pretzel rolls (or white roll, salted)
In a pot with 2 tsp oil, add chopped rosemary and sliced garlic and toast for about 1 minute. Add black eyed peas and coat them with the garlic and rosemary. Add water to the pot (just enough to coat the beans) and transfer to blender. Puree the mixture while slowly adding the roast garlic and the 2 cups extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream. Once emulsified, add a touch of mustard and salt and pepper to taste.
Thinly slice okra on the bias and soak in buttermilk for 30 minutes. Toss in flour and cayenne mix, and deep fry until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and reserve.
Place Andouille on grill; cook 5 minutes on each side until crispy and warmed through. Slit pretzel roll down the middle and toast on the grill for 1 minute; spread bean puree on 1 side, and mustard on the other. Slit the Andouille down the middle 1/2 way and fill with relish. Finish with crispy okra and serve.