Growing up near Atlanta, Todd English seemed destined for stardom—on the baseball diamond. Instead, swept up by a zeal for wine and food, he traded an athletic scholarship for four years at the Culinary Institute of America. English has since built a gastronomic empire. He’s launched dozens of restaurants, created tempting dishes for Delta Airlines and produced the award-winning PBS series, Food Trip with Todd English. Calculated risk was always part of the game, and his bet on a European/Japanese-style Food Hall, a collection of restaurants and markets carved out of the basement storage space of New York’s Plaza Hotel, hit the mark and is still expanding.
FAVORITE BEVERAGE WHEN I WAS 6
Ovaltine: hot in winter, cold in summer. I made it myself as soon as I could hold a spoon.
FAVORITE BEVERAGE NOW:
Red wine, especially from DRC, Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
EPIPHANY WINE EXPERIENCE:
My first trip to the vineyards of France after culinary school. Walking through the vineyards, taking in the aromas, drinking Château Margaux out of the barrel—I’ve never been the same after that.
MOST RECENT REVELATION CONCERNING WINE:
In Italy, sipping Barbaresco with local ingredients like truffles let me understand Italian wine on a whole new level.
FAVORITE DISH WHEN I WAS 6:
My grandmother’s pastina with chicken broth and Parmesan cheese, and the ice cream I churned myself using local farm stand peaches. O.K., I was 7.
MOST MEMORABLE DISH NOW:
White clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut.
WHAT I COOK IN MY SPARE TIME:
[I have] “meatball weekend” at home, watching football with my kids.
FAVORITE MUSIC AT 13:
Southern rock, especially the Allman Brothers.
FAVORITE MUSIC NOW:
Soulful artists from Al Green to Adele, and rock from Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters.
FAVORITE TOY WHEN I WAS 6:
Toy cars and my mini race track.
FAVORITE TOY/GADGET NOW:
The spice grinder I’m developing for HSN [Home Shopping Network]. I put the North African Berbere spice mix on anything I can find.
POSTERS ON MY BEDROOM WALL WHEN I WAS 13:
Jimi Hendrix, Willie Mays, Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron and Ted Williams. I loved Charlie’s Angels.
FAVORITE HOME DECORATION NOW:
My daughter’s photography and artwork.
IDEAL VACATION WHEN I WAS 12:
Any summer sports camp. I did everything from tennis to baseball to soccer.
IDEAL VACATION NOW:
St. Barts, or anywhere that touches the Mediterranean.
IF I HAD A MELTDOWN WHEN I WAS 6, IT WAS LIKELY OVER:
Bedtime. I was always a night owl and could never go to bed early.
WHAT I WANTED TO BE WHEN I GREW UP:
A pro baseball player or a rock star. Not so farfetched, since cooking on the line is sometimes called a contact sport. There’s the same need for quick decision-making, good hand-eye coordination, getting sweaty and sticking with it.
IF I COULD MEET MY TEENAGE SELF, MY ADVICE WOULD BE:
Never stop believing in yourself. Keep your dreams.
MY CURRENT IMPOSSIBLE DREAM:
To have the first restaurant in space.
Try this recipe from Chef Todd English:
Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs with Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from Cooking in Everyday English (Oxmoor House, 2011), by Todd English
For the meatballs
1 cup chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ pound ground veal
¾ pound ground chuck
¾ pound ground pork shoulder roast (Boston butt)
3 cups soft fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup Todd’s Spiced Ketchup (see recipe below)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 20 cubes, 1-inch each
8 cups cherry tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a medium-size sauté pan set over medium-high heat, cook the onion and garlic in olive oil for about 7 minutes, stirring often. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Let cool completely for about 30 minutes.
Add the veal, chuck, pork, breadcrumbs, parsley, ketchup, eggs, oregano, salt, pepper and 1 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano to the onion and garlic mixture. Mix the ingredients using your hands. Shape meat mixture into 2-inch-round balls around each of the mozzarella cubes. Place the stuffed meatballs onto a lightly greased rack in a broiler pan.
Bake the meatballs in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until meat is no longer pink inside. Remove the meatballs from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 500°F.
Toss the tomatoes, olive oil and salt in a bowl. Spread mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Bake at 500°F for 15 minutes or until blistered.
To serve, transfer meatballs to a serving bowl, top with tomato mixture and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serves 4.
Wine recommendation: “For an Italian like me, a wine from Italy is a must with meatballs,” says English. “My personal favorite is Chianti Classico, especially Castello Banfi, but anything from that DOCG will work because it’s a full-bodied, spicy wine that enhances the meat blend and roasted tomatoes.” For those who prefer something softer and domestic, English suggests California Pinot Noir like Belle Glos’s Taylor Lane Vineyard bottling.
Todd’s Spiced Ketchup
“Whip up a batch of this and you’ll never go back to the squirt bottle,” says English.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large white onions, diced (about 4 cups)
1 can diced San Marzano tomatoes, 14½ ounces
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon ground allspice
In a large skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until the onions turn a caramel color.
Stir in the tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar and allspice. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes or until the mixture is reduced by half. Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool completely. Pour the mixture into a blender and process until smooth. Cover and chill thoroughly. Makes about 2 cups.