Platelist: Todd English on Valentine's Day


"It's very true: As a Broadway actor would say, they're only as good as their last show, or as a musician, only as their last performance," he said. "So in the same sense, that's what he has to do every day on a consistent basis. So the celeb part, it's certainly great when you can use it in a way that helps society, that helps charitable organizations. In that sense, if you can get someone to auction a dinner off for a great charity, which I have a few that I deal with, that, to me, is what makes it worthwhile."

Even in today's business-oriented cooking world, English is notable for the aggressiveness with which he has pursued new restaurants in new locations.

"I have everything from 32 seats, a pizzeria, to a 240-seat restaurant in Vegas, so it's all over the board," he said. "But I still love that 32-seat restaurant as much as I love the 240-seat restaurant. I always get jazzed when I go and I see that the pizza is crispy and everything's going alright.

"It's very interesting; you talk about slapping your name on a restaurant or on something. You have to be careful. The expectation levels are much higher now, people come in with a certain vision of what they're going to get and you have to deliver. And I used to think at some point this business is going to get easier and I thought, 'Oh, in 10 years I won't be working as hard.' But the whole thing keeps getting dialed up and there's more and more and more expectation, and this sense of trying to see what people want and to deliver on that.

"As a former athlete, you're always challenging yourself to be better, and as a cook, I'm always challenging myself to be better, never to be a dinosaur, never to rest on my laurels, and to continue to reinvent yourself and to stay ahead of the curve as much as possible."

'I'm an Adrenaline Junkie'

English conceded that keeping so many balls in the air might look exhausting. But for him, he said, staying just a little busier than possible is the point.

"There's that crazy, frenetic energy that we thrive on," English said. "I'm an adrenaline junkie -- I love the high of the business. That's what keeps me coming back, and the idea that it's nurturing and it's an immediate thing. People are very happy. They take a bite and you can see that they're having a great time; it's something good, it's something they're excited about. I love the fact that restaurants -- I try to create this in my restaurants -- it's a place where people can get away. It's a little bit of a vacation from everybody's hectic life and their day. ... I think that's what food and wine bring to us as a human culture -- that sense of nurturing, that sense of place, that sense of grounding sensibility. And I love that that's what I do for a living."

English said success depends on having an accurate view of the self and on finding capable lieutenants.

"As a chef, you need to have a really good strong sense of the business," he said. "You also need to know what you're good at and what you're not good at. As an entrepreneur and as a chef, I need to have people that work with me that are good at that and can handle it. I can sort of guide the business, but I need someone that's going to be there and that can drive it every day. And I like to be the dreamer, the one that thinks about what's next. And if I bog myself down in things that aren't what I do best, then it ends up really kind of stifling what I do."

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