By Martie Duncan, Contributor
Chef Todd English burst onto the culinary scene in 1991 as the James Beard award winner for National Rising Star Chef. In 1994, the James Beard Foundation named him Best Chef in the Northeast. His star continues to rise along with the number of restaurants, books, and product lines that bear his name. And just in case you haven’t seen his picture, he was also named one of People magazine’s most beautiful people.
He has a bad boy chef reputation but I did not get that impression at all. Chef English was very kind and patient, even with hundreds of people vying for his attention at The Q event during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival 2013. In fact, he seemed rather like Super Chef as he handed out smiles and plates to the throngs of people around his station and talked to me as he effortlessly maneuvered between chef and celebrity.
Chef English is opening a restaurant in Birmingham, where MyRecipes.com is located, so I was excited to chat with him to see what he had in store for our city. Here’s what he had to say:
Martie Duncan: Give me some background on you and food.
Todd English: I learned to love food and cooking at an early age. My family was full of good cooks. I knew very early that I wanted to become a chef and went to culinary school when I was 20. That was way before there were celebrity chefs and all of this… [he gestures around the massive tent].
MD: So with all you are into, is food your first love?
TE: Yes. I became a chef to do what I love most and to make a living at it. Food and entertaining, as you know, go hand in hand. I want people to have a chance to go out, enjoy a wonderful meal and be entertained by the vibe and the place. That is all a part of the whole experience of food. I do lots of other things these days but the food is the epicenter.
MD: I have mad, enduring love for a dish I had once at Olive’s in New York at Union Square. I think it is on my top 10 list of all time favorites….
TE: Let me guess. The ravioli.
MD: Yes. It was Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage and Burnt Butter Sauce. It was divine. I’d walk to New York to have that again… but the next time I went, it was different. Good, but different.
TE: Yes. We change it up from based on what’s fresh and available. Everyone loves that dish. It’s been a signature for us for many years.
MD: Why did you decide to open a restaurant in Birmingham?
TE: I have Southern roots. I was born in Texas. I grew up in Georgia. My father is Southern. I love the flavors and the tastes of food in the South. I grew up with that. Birmingham is a wonderful food city with food scene that is just being discovered nationally. The Westin Hotel project came to me and it was the perfect environment for our P.U.B. concept.
MD: Tell me about the concept.
TE: P.U.B. stands for Public Urban Bar. We serve traditional pub food with my own spin on it. Since we’re in Birmingham, we’ll also have some of my Southern favorites on the menu and some local craft beers as well. There’s a Bloody Mary cart, a carvery, and a raw bar. The space at the Westin in Birmingham is beautiful; just perfect for the concept. It has an upscale but comfortable feel to it. We’ve just opened a week ago so we’re just getting things going but I’m very happy with the way it turned out.
MD: Let’s plan an event together… a MartieParty at Todd English’s P.U.B. what do you say?
TE: You’re on. Let’s plan it.
About that time, they were calling Chef English to the stage where his absolutely delicious BBQ entry won first place for the evening. It seems impossible to me that someone can cook over high heat, flames, and humidity in an outdoor kitchen for thousands of people and still look impeccably perfect. I seriously do not think he ever broke a sweat all evening and there wasn’t as much as a wrinkle in his chef coat. Perhaps that’s what makes him Todd English, Super Chef.