One of the most decorated, respected and charismatic chefs in the world, Todd English has enjoyed a staggering number of accolades during his remarkable career. He has been recognized by several of the food industry’s most prestigious publications, established one of the best-known restaurant brands in the nation, published three critically acclaimed cookbooks, created the record-breaking houseware line, The Todd English Collection, and hosts the Emmy-Nominated PBS travel series, Food Trip with Todd English.
Previews Inside Out With awards season approaching, many are planning viewing parties for friends and family in their homes—what are the keys to hosting a successful viewing party?
Todd English You don’t want to spend the whole night in the kitchen so make sure you have some foods that can be prepared in advance as well as left out—a fondue is always a good option. Have fun with the food and don’t be afraid to mix it up and put your own spin on dishes—I like to make an artichoke guacamole instead of using avocados. Most importantly always keep the drinks flowing— champagne cocktails are a good fit to glam it up for the occasion.
Previews Inside Out Places to visit in 2011?
Todd English Italy— always, anytime, anywhere. Texas—I want to do a BBQ tour all over Texas for my television show Food Trip Season 3. Cartagena, Columbia—I love South America but I’ve never been there and it looks amazing.
Previews Inside Out How can you transform your home in the new year to entertain in style? What are the essentials?
Todd English Good lighting really makes all the difference in turning any home into an enticing space for entertaining. Everyone looks great in candlelight, so lots of votive candles make any room look amazing. Fresh flowers can really help with the festive factor, as can bold splashes of color.
Previews Inside Out The focus of entertaining in our homes has shifted from more formal separated living/dining room settings and flowed out into the kitchen, in many cases changing the dynamic of how we entertain guests in our homes. How has your kitchen evolved over the years?
Todd English Definitely high top and counter seating is a big part of the way we eat and entertain today—both in my home and my restaurants. My food hall at the Plaza Hotel in NYC is actually all counter seating and high top communal tables and it’s great because it’s comfortable, casual, and social, plus they get to see and be a part of the action. It’s the same at my home, I can cook and interact with my kids and guests at the same time.
Previews Inside Out Has your kitchen become a central gathering and entertaining location?
Todd English Definitely! My kitchen is more of a social gathering place for company than my living room is.
Previews Inside Out What is your favorite memory of entertaining at home?
Todd English Anytime I’m in the kitchen cooking with my kids. Especially when we are making pasta.
Previews Inside Out You are widely recognized for incorporating the trend of open kitchens into your restaurants—what has been your guiding vision and the inspiration behind the open design of your restaurants?
Todd English I have always believed that we eat with our eyes, and that presentation is just as important as taste. The restaurant experience is the same way. I wanted people to get a peek at all the magic and processes happening behind the curtain, and make it almost like dinner theater. Then they get to see and taste the final creation when it comes out on the plate.
Previews Inside Out How does opening up the kitchen impact the dynamic and the mood of the room in your restaurants?
Todd English The chef’s counter at my restaurant is always the hottest seat in the house, diners love to sit there. They can watch what’s going on in the kitchen, chat with the chefs, ask questions, and of course taste lots of special items cooked up especially for them. The experience is so interactive, and it makes for a really exciting dining experience.
Previews Inside Out How can you achieve the same type of dynamic when entertaining at home? What are the essentials?
Todd English When I entertain at home I love to have people in the kitchen while I’m cooking, either watching and socializing or helping. A good dinner party isn’t only the sitting at the table and eating—it’s the whole experience from the creating to the enjoying.
Previews Inside Out The story of how you rewrote the menu the night before the opening of Olives has been famous—was that the biggest risk you have ever taken in entertaining?
Todd English Actually it was Michela’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts where I was the Executive Chef, and we had to open the next day for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus we had a take out shop—it was insane. Yeah, that can definitely go down as one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken, especially given the fact that it wasn’t even my own restaurant and I was only 25 and a newbie to Boston. But I took a chance and made it work, and it was a great restaurant— we were doing things in the 80s that nobody else was doing!
Previews Inside Out What are the secrets to improvising when entertaining at home?
Todd English Have no fear and never let them see you sweat. Feel free to mix it up and try something new—people aren’t there to judge, they are there to have a good time and enjoy the food and the company. So go for it, have a sense of adventure and humor and everyone will love it.
Previews Inside Out What are top 5 “musts” every host should offer his guests when entertaining at home?
Todd English Plenty of wine, good food, good music, good lighting and most importantly good conversation.
Todd English Fig & Prosciutto Flatbread
Makes Two Pizzas
2 pizza doughs (see recipe below)
cornmeal for sprinkling
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ teaspoon minced garlic
2 pinches kosher salt
2 pinches black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
½ cup Fig Jam (see recipe below)
4 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled into pea-sized pieces
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
1 scallion, thinly sliced lengthwise
One hour prior to cooking, place a baking stone in the oven and preheat it
to 500 degrees.
Roll out one pizza dough as thinly as possible. Place it on a pizza peel
sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover the surface with 1 teaspoon olive oil,
¼ teaspoon minced garlic, one pinch each salt and pepper and ½
teaspoon chopped rosemary. Be sure to leave an outer lip of one inch all
the way around.
Evenly dot with ¼ cup fig jam and 2 ounces gorgonzola cheese. Top with
half the Prosciutto.
Shake the paddle lightly and slide the pizza onto the baking stone. Bake
until browned, about 6-7 minutes. Transfer to a firm surface and cut into
slices. Serve immediately, garnished with ½ scallion.
Repeat with the remaining dough.
Makes Four 8-10 Inch Pizzas
4 cups all purpose white flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce) fresh yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 teaspoons olive oil
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
the mixer is running, gradually add the oil and water. Knead on low speed
until the dough is firm and smooth, about 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into four balls, about 7 ½ ounces each, and cover with
a damp towel. Let them rise in a warm spot until they have doubled, about
To roll the dough out, dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball at a
time on a generously floured work surface and press down in the center with
the tips of your fingers spreading the dough with your hand. When it has
doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin and roll out until it is very thin, like
flatbread. The outer border should be a little thicker than the inner circle. Pick
it up with a spatula or the back of a knife, allowing it to fold up almost like an
umbrella and transfer it to a paddle. Do not worry that the pizza is not round,
you are looking for a 10 x 12 inch shape, a cross between an oval and a
rectangle. If you get a hole, simply pinch the edges back together.
1 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil
3 shallots, diced
1 cup red wine
¼ cup chicken broth
¾ cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 rounded cup dried mission figs, quartered
Place a skillet over medium heat and when it is hot, add the oil. Add the shallots and cook until they are softened, about 3 minutes. Deglaze with the red wine, and add the chicken stock. Reduce by half and then add the suga and rosemary. Lower the heat to low and simmer about 3-5 minutes. Add the figs and cook until they are rehydrated, about 10-12 minutes. Cook until the mixture has the consistency of a liquidy jam, about 10-12 minutes.