Chef on the Grill: Todd English

Photo: Hannah Whitaker

Has being in the gossip pages for not showing up at your own wedding affected your business?
It’s actually been interesting, because the restaurants are busier. For all it’s worth, that’s great.

You have so many irons in the fire. Do you actually know how many restaurants you own?
I have no idea! No, we have fifteen.

You did have to close a few, right?
Yeah, we did, but they were ready to close anyway. They were management deals that ended, and ownership changed. And after twenty-odd years in the business, I’m sort of reinventing myself. I can’t say where, but I’m doing something that’s kind of the idea of a Harrods, a food hall, and there will be classes within the school.

That ties in to the cookware line you sell on HSN. Was GreenPan your idea?
Well, I was involved in bringing it to the States. We helped develop that technology—healthy, nonstick, really holds its heat. Somehow or another, they sell it very inexpensively, and I think that also gets America to buy, especially in this economy.

Most chefs are pasty and overweight. You’re fit and tanned and good-looking. Does that help sales?
Wow. Thank you. But I like to think it’s based on what I’m cooking on the stove and how I present it. However I can convey the message is great, but I hope that people see the love for what I do.

You were chef-owner of Libertine when it opened. Now you’ve parted ways. What happened?
Look, the economy was the economy. I mean, it was scary. Like, seriously, Lehman was the day we opened Libertine.

And yet you still seem to be investing in new projects. What’s going on in New York?
Well, we’ve got [supper club] Juliet, and a project on 44th Street at the InterContinental hotel that’s opening in 2010. It’s a to-be-named brasserie. My version of a brasserie. It’s interesting, because as much as there’s been a downturn, I’ve also had a lot of opportunities. People need the endorsement of a restaurant to sell condos or to sell hotel rooms.

Juliet is a wild nightclub.
It is, though we don’t say “nightclub.” We say “lounge.” And we haven’t geared up cooking fully yet there because we had some issues, but the cooking there is very much about sharing food. A lot of nomadic Mediterranean in the sense that it’s got some Middle Eastern, it’s got some Israeli, it’s got some northern Africa, and it’s got southern Mediterranean. But it’s all about things like roasted-carrot hummus and great breads that we make in a special oven.

You’ve also proposed an ambitious project with the under-construction Great Jones Hotel, involving three restaurants and a 24-hour café.
There will be a restaurant and lounge, but that’ll probably be it. They don’t want this to be a rowdy club—thump, thump, thump—and that’s not what I want. I want it to be something that adds to the neighborhood, that gives back to the neighborhood.

You’re opening a cupcake shop in Boston with your 16-year-old daughter, Isabelle. Is she an aspiring restaurateur?
We thought it would be good for her college application, good for her self-esteem. She really has done everything: the layout of the shop, logos, the name—CurlyCakes, because we always kid her about her curly hair. We’re thinking about savory cupcakes for winter, like a corn cupcake, and you cut it open and put chili and avocado, with a sour-cream frosting. We’re looking hopefully mid- or late December. By Christmas.

What’s your favorite restaurant find in New York?
I love sneaking into Frank, Second and 5th. That’s fun. I love the Spotted Pig. Those are my everyday kind of places.

Are you dating now?
I’m not dating right now. I’m hanging with my friends and taking it slow.

Chef on the Grill: Todd English