By David Landis–
It’s not what they call a British invasion, it’s an English invasion. And the Bay Area’s food scene will only get better for it.
I’m happy to report (actually, even happier to scoop!) This celebrity chef Todd English (known for his famous olives in Las Vegas and many restaurants across the country) will open a new olives gourmet Italian restaurant in San Francisco, as well as new potential The English hotel in downtown Napa.
I’ve been a fan of Chef English since he ate years ago at olives in Las Vegas, where I still have fond memories of his signature fig pizza (we also spotted James Caan, but that’s another story!). I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the chef who has restaurants (as well as hotels) from Vegas to New York and all points in between, as well as his dynamic business partner, Keith Burkard. Here are some highlights:
Gay Gourmet: Todd, how did you get your start in cooking?
English Todd: My first job as a professional cook dates back to the age of 15. Yes, I started working in kitchens when I was 15, but I really wanted to be a baseball player. And I loved to play baseball and I was recruited into several baseball schools and also soccer. So, I chased that for a little while and ended up hurting myself and backing off a bit. At that time, there was no rehabilitation that is done today. I ended up cooking because I loved it and for a living. I’ve worked with some really cool chefs who taught me the ropes. I have worked in European kitchens and all over the world. At that time (you’re talking about the 1970s and 1980s) there weren’t many professional American chefs doing this, except for some French restaurants in New York. I ended up pursuing it, then applied to the Culinary Institute of America, and the rest is history. Once I went to school there, I was convinced that was what I wanted to do.
Gay Gourmet: Has the pandemic changed the way you think about restaurants?
English Todd: Yes quite. I think about why people go to restaurants. People are very gregarious and want to be with each other and be part of something that is either a dining experience or an entertainment experience. So we’re really starting to incorporate all of that into restaurants, even on a bigger level. I believe restaurants will not only be about food, but also a lot of nightlife, like a Broadway show, movie, or sporting event.
Gay Gourmet: Many of our readers go to Vegas to have fun. Tell me a bit about your restaurants there and what makes them different.
Keith Burkard: olives is the Marquis de Todd’s restaurant, great table food, amazing fig pizza (his signature dish) and Italian-Mediterranean cuisine. The Beast at Area15 is an arts/Burning Man themed experience, with immersive activities throughout the facility. The Beast is an American themed restaurant with table service. It has a heavy focus on barbecues and smokers, meat and meatless offerings (vegan barbecue, barbecued carrot ribs, cauliflower steaks), burgers, sandwiches, and Todd’s pizza. The Chilli Club is located in the new English hotel property. It’s an Asian fusion restaurant with a full sushi suite; various American-Italian dishes with Asian accents; and a fun, creative and engaging cocktail menu. Todd and I did the basic design.
English Todd: With The Chilli Club, we tried to combine two of my favorite kitchens to create areas and kitchens that I find extremely popular. As chefs we have very creative tools and can do different, fun and exciting combinations and allow us to have a new perspective on things. The Chilli Club features a combination of Japanese and Mediterranean, two of my favorites. Both have always had a long history of raw fish. Both had a lot of veggie history, deep flavors and salami flavors. It’s a fun place. It’s just fun. It is what it is, because I think it should be fun and lighthearted.
olives is obviously my original brand from 1989. It was really meant to be an everyday restaurant, somewhere you could go if you’re in Vegas, say, one day for lunch and a few days later for dinner. It’s a gathering place where you can meet at the bar and have a bite to eat if you wish. It’s meant to be a lot of things for a lot of people. So, I think it’s a bit special and it has a lot of good memories for people. As it concerns The beast OK, I think it’s a bit of everything. There are young children during the day who love the interactive art on the walls and the digital programming there. Then you have some sort of catch later in the night. The place has some psychedelic fun stuff that is definitely challenging, experimental, and fun. That’s another thing you see there. We try to be playful with the food, very Instagrammable – it’s presented differently and it’s fun to watch. More importantly, it tastes good.
Gay Gourmet: Tell me about The English Hospitality Group (EHG). You got into the hotel business, in addition to catering. What is the model?
Keith Burcard: During COVID, the madness that happened, Todd and I teamed up with different backgrounds (his as a culinary innovator and mine in finance, entrepreneurship, design). We thought, worked together and created the next wave of hybrid hospitality. We are already well on our way as a leading global operator and developer. The English hotel just launched in Vegas in February. We were able to build it during COVID, it’s a wild success. We position a high-level team to execute the identification of real estate opportunities.
Gay Gourmet: Are there any plans for the Bay Area?
Keith Burcard: Belle, Todd English’s daughter, is a chef at Williams Sonoma and we are trying to identify a place, a olives restaurant that creates Italian cuisine in San Francisco that touches on meats and meatless dishes, especially since Californians are the leaders in culinary innovation.
Gay Gourmet: Would you like to open a hotel in San Francisco?
Keith Burcard: Not the city, but we are in discussion with potential options in downtown Napa. I would like to do something not too big.
Gay Gourmet: How did you structure/build the business? What are the characteristics of an EHG experience?
Keith Burcard: Key features are an elevated dining experience like no other. We take pride in our dishes, the process, the service and the offerings we have in all of our restaurants. They are very unique and it creates a memorable experience.
Gay Gourmet: What are your favorite dishes?
English Todd: Well, it’s really hard to say. It’s like saying, who is my favorite child? I think more about my favorite inspirations or my favorite trends or the things I pursue. One of them is that I’m infatuated with vegan barbecue, very excited about smoking and taking vegetables and making them the star of the plate and not necessarily using Beyond Meats etc. to do it. I think making vegetables the main star is the way I like to approach it. So we make carrot baby back ribs where we line the carrots and smoke them for 6 hours with this barbecue glaze. You pull them apart and you think, well, maybe I’m eating barbecue pork, but they’re real real carrots, sweet, delicious, savory and light, and you feel good eating them. I love combining flavors and spices and ideas around food that make it really punchy. There are only so many ways to cook, but when cooking vegetables, there are thousands of ways to do it.
Keith Burcard: I have two favorite dishes: the cauliflower parmesan; and a broccoli and cauliflower soup that is amazing.
Gay Gourmet: Keith, I’m going to put you on the spot. Do you have a favorite Todd English restaurant?
Keith Burcard: Olives in the Bahamas— it is a beautiful restaurant on the bay canal; The weather is perfect; the fish is freshly caught; it’s the ultimate dining experience.
Gay Gourmet: What are your favorite restaurants in San Francisco?
Keith Burcard: Altovino to North Beach.
English Todd: Sloth Bear.
Gay Gourmet: What’s going on in New York with your restaurants?
English Todd: Regarding New York: The Food Hall, New York City Plaza hasn’t reopened and that’s just for a lot of reasons, but we are definitely trying to reopen it soon. You know, I love this space, and I love the whole idea of it. It was sort of one of the first of its kind here in the United States. The definition of a food hall is changing and we are redeveloping it right now. The Pink Park location in New York is also a developing concept. We hope it will be open next year at 18 months. It’s a very exciting space, with a lot of history. It’s in a building that was at one time the tallest building in New York City at the turn of the century and overlooks Old City Hall. It is a very dynamic district.
Gay Gourmet: And after?
Keith Burcard: Going forward, we make sure to identify all the key variables of any hospitality. We want to focus on community, art, cuisine and ultimately employee development. We want to build an ecosystem that empowers and inspires employees to grow with the organization over time and take ownership of some of the action. We want to be that leader in the hospitality industry.
Todd English restaurants: https://tinyurl.com/yc2vnm4r
The English Hotel, Las Vegas: https://theenglishhotel.com/
Readers, please note: The Gay Gourmet skips a month of “Bits and Bites,” but look for an expanded “Bits and Bites” feature in my next column.
David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet”, is a retired foodie, freelance writer and public relations expert. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: email@example.com Or visit it online at: www.gaygourmetsf.com
Posted on June 22, 2022