Irene Sax / May 2008
Food Arts presents the May 2008 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Todd English, the archetype of the contemporary chef. He has 20 restaurants, three cookbooks, and his own line of cookware and housewares. The movie star good looks that made him one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" were a help when he wanted a TV career. And he has expanded our ideas of where a restaurant can be located to the point that he now feeds customers on land, on sea, and in the air.
With the opening of Beso in Los Angeles, he's going into something new, a modern version of a supper club. He's convinced this is the future. "People want to go out and have a good time," he says. "Everyone wants bigger flavors, smaller portions, and good drinks. Cocktails are back in fashion, and mixology is big again."
English has known what the public wanted since he opened Olives in a Boston storefront in 1989. "When Olives opened, it electrified Boston," says Boston magazine critic Corby Kummer. "It had the most wonderful bar where you could order spit-roasted chicken. The pastas were generous and the flavors vibrant, and the crowd was vibrant, too." Soon afterward, English appeared on Food Arts' cover, commandeering the grill like one of the young gods of fire.
Since then, he has had ups and downs, but mostly ups. His brand of fresh, highly flavored Mediterranean cooking earned him James Beard Foundation awards as Rising Star Chef and Best Chef Northeast, made him the first recipient of the Robert Mondavi Award for Culinary Excellence, and a member of "Who's Who in Food and Beverage in America." His restless creativity had him opening restaurants at Mohegan Sun and Walt Disney World as well as in New York City, Boston, and Seattle.
And possibly because his dizzying schedule has him spending so much time on the road, he's committed to feeding travelers. He opened a branch of Figs in New York's LaGuardia Airport and of the steakhouse Bonfire in Boston's Logan Airport as well as in JFK, Las Vegas, and Chicago. With Delta Airlines he developed a buy-on-board menu of sandwiches, salads, and snacks for coach customers. "I'm a big believer in the democracy of food. We all have to eat, and what we do with Delta is provide passengers with something affordable and good in eco-friendly packaging so they don't have to skip a meal."
At the other end of the dining scale, in 2004 he sailed off on a new mode of transportation when he opened Todd English, a Mediterranean restaurant on the Cunard Line's flagship Queen Mary 2. This proved so successful that Cunard asked him to create a sister restaurant for their new Queen Victoria, now on her maiden world cruise. So if English says that the next big thing will be supper clubs and cocktails, we'd all better make a grab for the cocktail shakers and bitters bottles.