Platelist: Todd English on Valentine's Day


"Texture also plays a big part as well. I've done dinners where you blindfold the person so that all that is left is the sense of touch. Hot and cold are very important. When it hits your palate it all has to come together. You need to think about music and candlelight and all the things that bring it all together. Hopefully you won't spend all night in the kitchen!"

And for those headed in the opposite direction:

"I've never used food to break up with someone, but if I needed to, it'd have to be something that doesn't evoke all those great things. What, do you open up a can of cat food? I don't know."

English was born in Texas to a full-blooded Italian mother and a "Texan and German and English" father. His parents split up when he was young, and he went to live "with the Italians" in Atlanta. It was a family that did food right.

"[My mother was] an amazing cook and my grandmother was an amazing cook as well," English said. "And I even got to know my great-grandmother, from Calabria [Italy], who I watched make pasta. You know the old stories of her rolling out the pasta and leaving it on the bed. So, I certainly think somewhere in there subconsciously it's a very big part of me."

As a teen, English lived in Connecticut and spent a lot of time in New York City, where his father worked in television production. When it came time for college, however, he chose the South, attending Guilford College in North Carolina on a baseball scholarship.

"I thought baseball, that's all I thought about," English said. "I slept with my glove as a kid. That was what I wanted to do and be. But it's funny, I look back and I think, 'Wow, it would've been such a different life, and I'm really enjoying what I'm doing now.' I love that it's so diverse and there are so many opportunities. But fortunately, I have a couple boys and I get in the field with them and I coach them, so it's still in my life."

After college -- and following a period of "many mishaps" -- English was admitted to the Culinary Institute of America. He graduated with honors in 1982, did some time in Italy and, after a stint at Michela's in Cambridge, Mass., opened Olives. (Mediterranean finger food figures prominently in the English restaurant nomenclature; another of his places is called Figs.)

"It was a time when being a chef was not part of things we thought about in our society," English said of his pre-professional days. "It was late '70s, early '80s. [Professional cooking] was just beginning to happen, definitely much more on the West Coast. I guess it was just luck that I got into it."

'We Have to Do It Every Day'

Now the cooking landscape has shifted.

"It's interesting, the whole celeb chef thing," said English. "It's certainly part of promoting what you do, and [the way] I look at it, we're artists, we're craftsmen, we're craftspeople and we have to stay true to our trade and stay true to what we do, and we have to do it every day. That's the thing: We have go in every day and produce the same thing every day, day in and day out. We're only as good as our last meal.

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