Platelist: Todd English on Valentine's Day

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A lot of people approach Valentine's Day with a level of apprehension otherwise reserved for large wildlife and abandoned Gothic architecture at night. The holiday either holds bad memories, or it highlights current loneliness, or it's just too blatantly a commercial sham to take part in.

People who do participate, packing their "milk" chocolate in garish boxes to awkward dinners in overrated restaurants, only cinch the point.

Yet there are the romantic holdouts.

"Absolutely, there is a connection between food and love. I always say, when there's love in my heart or I'm feeling particularly good, the food comes out that much better. And so I think Valentine's Day is a special day."

No, that's not Fabio in an outtake from last season's "Top Chef." That's Todd English, one of the top cooking talents of his generation, indefatigable culinary entrepreneur and diehard Cyrano.

English is perhaps best known, general-population-wise, as the marquee name attached to an empire of high-end eateries found in the country's most heavily trafficked theme parks and airports (Disney World, JFK, Boston-Logan). He also has restaurants on two cruise ships and one at Mohegan Sun, the mega Connecticut gambling venue.

But among foodies, the English legend turns on a single restaurant the young chef opened in Charlestown, Mass., in April 1989. It sat 50, it served rustic Mediterranean cuisine and it generated the kind of buzz money can't buy. The restaurant, Olives, endures as a Boston favorite (now at an expanded location) and has spawned offshoots in New York City, Las Vegas and Boca Raton, Fla.

Outside the kitchen, English won a James Beard Award (his third) and an Emmy nomination for the first season of his international travel and cooking series on PBS, "Food Trip With Todd English."

For good measure, English, whose face clearly was inventoried in the "Hot Ones" section of God's astral warehouse, was named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" in 2001.

In an interview at the New York Olives in the run-up to the big day, English expounded on his career, love, the restaurant business, love, baseball, love, his Italian grandma's cooking and love. He also shared some RECIPES guaranteed to provide maximum romantic saturation this Valentine's Day.

(But to dispatch with a late and delicately pertinent chapter in the English legend, before wading more deeply into his thoughts on matters of the heart: Yes, he recently endured a break-up with his fiancee, and yes, reports circulated widely that she found out about it on The Big Day itself, and yes, contradictory reports also emerged, and no, he doesn't want to talk about it.)

In any case, the chef doesn't appear to be spent on love.

'I'm Thinking About the Pheromones'

English gamely shared his personal crib sheet for creating a mealtime plateau of nuclear-grade romantic lethality.

"To serve when you want to seduce someone?" he said. "There are certain things that always romanticize the night -- something bubbly certainly always works. So Champagne is always a good start. When I'm cooking I'm thinking about the pheromones and what will give beauty to that sensuous moment. I believe in oysters, citruses, things that will spark a memory.

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