The only chef to have been named both a James Beard Best Chef (Northeast, 1994) and one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People”, 50-year-old Todd English has been packing them in ever since he opened his first Olives in Charlestown Mass in April 1989. Now operating over a score of restaurants—in cruise ships, hotels, airports, and nightclubs, as well as in urban hubs like New York, Boston and Las Vegas—English always has a new project on the boil, whether in restaurants, books or TV. His chiseled Italianate features are instantly recognizable from his own PBS series Food Trip, Cooking Under Fire, and Cooking In With Todd English, as well as countless appearances on everything from Iron Chef to The Today Show. Here English dishes with Gourmet Live about his love for peanut butter, rock and roll and a certain Parisian roast chicken, his plans for 2011, and which vegetable he prefers to keep off the Olives menu.
Gourmet Live: What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Todd English: The best memorable meal was with my family in Sicily on the waterfront at my great grandmother’s house. It was filled with local delicacies. She made homemade macaroni with a ragu, and a lamb tomato sauce. We were around a big table out on the lawn, big oak trees, beautiful breeze. And we ate octopus, braised with tomatoes, pepperoncini and wild fennel. We had grilled spleen on crostini. We had roasted lamb, beautiful prawns, grilled, simple, with lemon and olive oil.
GL: Who was there?
TE: It was three generations of family. My great uncle, my great grandmother, my mother and my daughter. The boys didn’t go.
GL: What’s the most underrated ingredient?
TE: Celery. I love celery and people don’t use it a lot. Celery and flavors in that family—it really brightens and is refreshing.
GL: What’s your guilty food pleasure?
TE: I like Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. We’ve used them in our recipes and in cupcakes. I like the combination of chocolate and peanut butter so I use it a lot.
GL: Do you ever use it in any savory recipes?
TE: No never have.
GL: Would you be against it?
TE: I don’t know. If it made sense I would do it.
GL: Which food do you like the least?
TE: Green bell peppers.
TE: It usually just ends up being a big indigestion of burping green peppers and it takes over and everything tastes like green peppers. I am just not a fan of them.
GL: What’s your favorite location for food?
TE: Northern Italy. My favorite thing is Spaghetti with white clam sauce anywhere on the Amalfi Coast or the Tuscan Coast.
GL: Do you ever try to reproduce the dish?
TE: Yes, I love it. I make it for my friends and my loved ones.
GL: If you could dine with anyone, who would you pick?
TE: Probably one of the old classic chefs like Antonin Carême or someone like that. Just to hear what it was like in that era. I love history.
GL: What five to 10 ingredients are always in your fridge?
TE: I’m looking at it right now...peanut butter. There’s a theme here! Beer. Dom Perignon. Chocolates. Soy milk. Some mustard and jams.
GL: Which five ingredients are always on your shopping list?
TE: Pasta, parmesan, olive oil, garlic and lemon
GL: What’s your favorite dish to cook?
TE: Simple pasta with fresh red sauce.
GL: How do you make your red sauce? Do you include any special ingredients?
TE: I made it last night. My favorite way to make it is lots of garlic, lots of extra virgin olive oil, toast the garlic, melt anchovies, hot peppers (chili flakes) into about a half a cup to a cup of the virgin olive oil, and then you add the chopped tomatoes to it. If you can get them, ripe heirloom tomatoes are my favorite. And then you serve it with a nice flat pasta like a Pappardelle.
GL: How would you describe the perfect dinner party?
TE: Full of good food, good wine, good music and intelligent and beautiful women.
GL: What’s your favorite restaurant?
TE: That would be in Paris. L’ Amis Louis. It’s a Bistro and I like to order the roast chicken.