When you were younger, you had dreams of being a baseball player
English: I played from the time I was seven years old. My
father was my first baseman coach. I had opportunities that I
never really pursued with some Miami teams and a few larger
colleges, and then I ended up bailing and began cooking.
TF: What was it about cooking that you loved most?
I liked the energy, the action, the camaraderie
compare the kitchen to sports and compare the chef to a coach.
There are a lot of similarities to it.
TF: Youre coaching a huge team!
Yeah, although really I only coach a few, but its definitely
a trip and a challenge to get everybody going in the same direction.
TF: Have you had a lot of the same people working for you
over the years?
I have actually been very fortunate having the same people. The
cooks come and go, but basically the management has stayed the
TF: One of your biggest challenges must be hiring
have you found your core staff over the years?
Sometimes its recruiting; sometimes its bringing them
up through the ranks. They come in as either bussers or line cooks,
and then as they progress, I move them up to give them new challenges.
Thats part of what Im doing too with the growth
(restaurant expansion), I have the opportunity to give people
TF: Do you have any kind of incentive or benefit programs
for your staff?
Yeah, we definitely do. Certain key people are tied to profit-sharing
and lots of trips. We try to do a lot of extra-curricular activities.
We went over to Italy for a big wine expo - there were about 7
or 8 of the chefs and a couple of wine guys. We were in a van
and we drove around and we ate and we drank until we couldnt
do it anymore. It was fun. We visited some wineries and went to
markets a little culinary tour of Venice and Fruili.
TF: What was your original inspiration when you started out?
Why Olives? Why Charlestown, MA?
We opened up in 1989. The economy wasnt great. Boston seemed
to be ready, but I wasnt sure about having new restaurants.
How I landed in Boston, I dont know. I lived and worked
in New York for years, but I just got a job (in Boston) and ended
up realizing theres a great market here and its a
nice lifestyle and there are a lot of interesting people that
I thought could be customers. Having been to Europe and working
and traveling there, the restaurants my wife and I remember were
always off the beaten trail restaurants. So I tried to seek a
little "off the beaten trail," but cool area. Boston
is made up of a bunch of neighborhoods really, so we found Charlestown
- they were just redoing it and there was an interesting little
main street with gas lamps. It was quaint; it had a really nice
thing going on there. So, I had the opportunity. I opened up the
and the rest is history.
TF: What were some of the challenges you faced starting out,
some of the lessons you learned?
Well, I had always been in the kitchen and had some management
experience, but I never ran the front nor ran a whole restaurant.
Some of the things I think I learned from that were very educational
as far as just paying bills - the basics in dealing with a restaurant
like that. It was just life the education involved in running
the organization, even on a small level. I always say that I feel
like Im in my own case study at the Harvard Business School.
Ive learned by trial and error; Ive made some mistakes,
and decisions on paying bills, learning how to buy and put in
kitchen equipment, learning how the cash flow works or how to
read a P & L, negotiating leases, and learning how to do all
those things you dont really know (when starting
out). Those are all important things from the business standpoint.
So the thing I think Ive probably learned most about (running)
a business is continuing to also learn about cooking and what
TF: Many of our younger users aspire to become professional
chefs, but wonder what route to take
what would your advice
be to them? If you were to do it over, would you have taken the
I think you have to find your favorite restaurant, or find a restaurant
you like, get to know the people, and ask them if you can volunteer.
Most people will let you do that, observe, hang out in the kitchen,
see what youre getting into. Tell them the reason why you
want to do it. I think a lot of people have a misconception of
what the kitchen is about, but you know the grueling part of it
is also the pleasure of it. Thats why I think you have to
have a certain mentality to understand what that is and be able
to handle it. Its like professional athletes when
you see a great golfer swing a golf club or a great tennis player
swing a racquet - they make it look so easy. The kitchen is the
same thing if its a professional kitchen, they can
make it look a lot easier than it is, and when you really get
in there you realize that its not that easy.
TF: You are always experimenting with different types of ingredient
Do you still go into the kitchen with a bunch
of ingredients simply to see what you can do with them?
Absolutely. Thats always a passion its what
keeps me going everyday. There are visions that come at different
times. The other day I was thinking of tuna, and then I was thinking
of Tuna au Poivre - I was thinking about aromatic flavors.
So, I thought, what if we take tuna steaks and bury them in peppercorns,
coriander and red peppers and roast it that way. I havent
done it yet, but things like that come to mind. Its almost
like salt-roasting, but its pepper-roasting.
hoping to do a lot of experimentation at the W (Hotel) in New
York at Union Square where were going to be doing the breakfast.
Itll be opening in November. Its designed by David
Rockwell. Im very excited about the opportunity, but Im
thinking also of the idea of writing breakfast menus, which I
really havent done a lot of because Ive been working
in restaurants and not necessarily hotels. Im looking forward
to it I dont like to cook eggs but I like
the idea of doing some different things and to get people psyched
up for breakfast in a new light.
TF: Do you find it a little intimidating opening Olives in
New York - the most competitive restaurant city in the world?
Yeah, Im definitely nervous and excited. I feel like Ive
been playing off-Broadway, not to say that Boston doesnt
have a great theatre district or great theatre, but its
not going to Broadway; its just a different city.
TF: It has been said that your name has become a brand in
Describe the philosophy behind this "brand"
in your cuisine, service, etc.
Someone asked me that the other day
and it kind of struck
me as odd, but in a way thats sort of what the mission of
this is. It really is about creating a system or a structure or
a signature thats your signature, your trademark
your brand, so to speak that people recognize as a certain
style or quality. So that when people hear your name or your product,
one thing comes to their minds usually, hopefully, it means
quality or its something that people understand. As in anything,
like people say Kleenex, and everybody knows what that is. Thats
what the inspiration is - by creating this brand, youre
creating this institution of whatever this Todd English thing
is and thats what people will associate as a certain level
of quality, a certain level of prestige whatever registers
in their minds. It really is about being able to build a bigger
foundation and a bigger company, and tap into other markets besides
just cooking the food plate by plate. The business of cooking,
the plate by plate business, which is the restaurant business
is hard - you cant do it forever. Thats the idea of
why were building a brand.
TF: Do you have difficulty maintaining your reputation? It
must be hard to keep control over every area of your business.
It is, but one thing that should always be associated (with Chef
Englishs restaurants) is theres always a style or
a fashion that theres that one thing that stands
out, whatever it might be. It might be the color, the plating
style, the layering (of food) whatever the style is, that
it really does represent who I am.
How do you go about hiring chefs/sous chefs/pastry chefs? Is there
a training/orientation period? Are you open to allowing the chefs
experiment with the cuisine making up specials for the
Yes, we have a training period; we have certain guidelines and
structure. You cant hire talented people and stifle them.
Thats not the way it works anymore. Were talking about
an industry thats really changing, really moving
we have to look at it very differently now. If you dont
look at it differently, youre not going to maximize the
potential of it. You have to use the talent you have, use the
people because the bottom line is that this business is still
a people business and always will be.
TF: Have you had a consistent relationship with specific purveyors
throughout the years? Which ones?
Ive had a lot of the same purveyors. Theres a guy
in Boston that I buy from, his name is Kim Marden (Captain Marden's
in Wellesley, MA) hes an amazing fish purveyor. Hes
very, very conscientious - hes very much into taking care
of his customers, going to the smaller boats in Gloucester and
buying the day-boat fish. And in Boston, he can really
get some good stuff.
TF: Youve become involved in many forms of media
TV, books, Internet have you taken advantage of the technological
revolution in your restaurants?
Were trying to get hooked up with this new Internet service,
which films with live cameras in the kitchens connected to the
Internet. Well actually be putting it in Kingfish Hall (opened
July 1 in Boston) and in Washington (Olives Restaurant). Ill
be able to dial them up anywhere I want and see whats going
on in the kitchen.
TF: Tell us a little about Kingfish Hall.
Its basically a fish house. I call it an old-fashioned seafood
house for the new millennium. We are trying to update what we
know as old fish houses and places like that, which are great,
but I want to give it a new, fresh look with updated versions
of the classics we all love.
TF: On a different note, as a father of three, how do you
balance your personal and professional life?
I say, "Kids, its quality not quantity." I dont
know how else to do it today. I have certain ambitions and we
want to do certain things with our life. My daughter Isabelle
came home the other day, shes 7, and shed written
an essay at school. She said, "You know I dont see
my dad a lot, but hes a chef and when he is around, its
great and we also get to go to really cool places."
TF: When you have a family get-together, do your kids help
you out in the kitchen?
Sometimes, I try to get them working. My older son is 10 and hes
pretty interested. We had a dinner party the other night and he
helped a lot. He helped peel asparagus; he hung out. It was great.
TF: What do you think is the best way to get kids into cooking
to get them to try new things?
Like anything, you dont force it on them. It just becomes
part of life have them be around it, keep them informed
talk about it. I try to relay my passion for it in these
ways. The second you try to force anything on your own kid, they
TF: Do you have any plans to open restaurants abroad?
Were looking at London as an opportunity.
TF: Any other future plans, besides taking a well-deserved
That would be a good one! Were working on the television
shows. Im also working on a cooking academy, which will
be a combination of a school for the chefs in my company with
a school with classes for adults with different cooking stations
- learning how to make drinks, working with wood-burning ovens
things like that. We have a lot of things in the works.