Celebrity chef and restauranteur Todd English was one of our favorite people this Fashion Week. Curating a menu of delicious amuse-bouches — salmon skewers and bite-sized grilled cheeses, oh my! — in the American Express Skybox, English, a close friend of designer Naeem Khan, took some time after his pal’s show to talk eats, reality TV, and how the worlds of food and fashion collide.
So what was it about curating bites for the American Express Skybox that excited you?
Well first of all, as you know, a lot of you guys out there are loyal and wonderful customers. I also feel that considering what you guys do, you travel a lot and you see the world, and for me, [I enjoy] being part of this wonderful group and [am] a member as well. There’s so many great things that are offered through American Express that go beyond just members. Very exclusive moments — enriching moments. It gives us the experiences, it enriches our lives, and that’s, at the end of the day, what’s most important and exciting. To do the unusual things, the fun things, not necessarily everyday things. That’s what life’s about. “Livin’ it large,” as we would say.
Being at New York Fashion Week this September, how do you feel about fashion? (We know you’re BFFs with Naeem Khan).
I love fashion. I find that food is very much like fashion in the sense that it has trends, it has movement, it’s constantly changing. As a chef and restaurateur, I stay on top of that. You have to keep your ear to the ground, or in my case, your nose to the air! [It's] making sure that you’re following things that are happening. Is it small plates? Is it vinaigrettes? Is it spices? Why is macaroni and cheese everyone’s favorite? French fries, of course; who turns that down? All of those things that are constantly changing — that’s what I love about fashion as well. I loved the beautiful colors of Naeem’s collection today. I think he’s great, [and] he’s also a great cook! I’ve been to his house on numerous occasions and eaten some delicious food. There are a lot of similarities between cuisine and fashion and cooking.
All week, of course, we’ve been talking about trends. What are some trends going on in food and in wine?
Well, thank god truffle oil is gone. (Laughs) I mean it was hard to get that smell off of you for a while. You’d be burping it the next day; it was awful! It’s certainly about health, it’s about diet, and it’s about not sacrificing. And as we go out to eat — and in New York we go out a lot — you’re starting to see a variety of different ethinc cuisines, all those things together. The trend is about simplicity with complex flavors. It might just be a very simple fish with a wonderful spice rub on it and that’s it. And maybe a nice vinaigrette. I think it’s certainly small portions, and you’re seeing the birth of a delicious cocktail.
In spite of the economy, why is it still important to eat out?
Restaurants are not only dining destinations, but are about our social lives. They’re the modern living rooms where we spend time socializing and gathering and being together, for many different reasons. It’s just an escape from a really lousy day at work, a horrible economy, or a place to celebrate and be with your friends.
On the runway we can’t get enough of bright colors. Are we seeing this trend in food as well?
We eat with our eyes, certainly. I’ve been really into beet juice lately; I can’t get over it these days. Colors are a big part of cuisine. Brightness usually means freshness, which usually means [the food is] healthy for you. You think about chlorophyll, berries, peas, anything green is usually most healthy for you. I see that as where we’re going. I see juices as a big part of our life. I think the days of over-reduced stocks and sauces are behind us.
We hear there’s a reality show about you in the works. Is it true?
Well, let’s just say we’re working on it. It’s not necessarily reality, it’s more documentary. It chronicles the life of a chef, a restaurateur, and what happens in our lives. That’s sort of an inside look on it — not based on reality because that would just be too scary.
What’s your favorite dish that you’ve created?
Agh, that’s like asking who my favorite child is! I’ve been crazy about sea urchin again, I don’t know why it is. So that’s one of things I’ve been doing lots of things with. It’s a little odd, but it’s certainly one of my favorites.
When you’re designing restaurants and menus, how much do things like the design of the actual structure and the uniforms of your staff come into play?
Certainly, restaurants are very much about fashion statements, what is trendy, and colors, and ambiance, and feeling, and mood, and sensuality, and all those things that are a part of a dining experience. Music is very big for restauarnts right now. There are many things besides the food. I think fashion is a huge part and you’re seeing more designers get involved in restaurant uniforms these days. I’ve got Naeem Khan to design all my uniforms now!