Interview: Todd English Puts on a Smiley Face

I'm not going to lie to you. Most Tuesday nights around Always Order Dessert headquarters are usually spent lazying about on the couch waiting for Lost (Eugene) and Glee (me) to start. Last week, we got our cozy selves off the couch and into sparkly cocktail attire (Eugene), and grabbed a cab down to The Red Bull Space in SoHo to attend the Smiley Faces NY kick-off gala.

Smiley Faces is a relatively new non-profit organization founded to support the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery's Cleft Lip & Palate Clinic located at NYU Langone Medical Center. Formed in 2009, the Foundation raises awareness and funds to assist the Institute in providing treatment for all children in need of cleft lip and palate repair throughout the United States.

Definitely a worthy cause, and the event itself was a fitting benefit; a combination party/gallery exhibit featuring portraits of children (some really adorable ones like this little guy below in the Spiderman pajamas!) who have undergone cleft lip or palate reconstructions, showing their beautiful smiling faces.

The portraits were taken by a number of prominent photographers, including James White, Peter Lindbergh, Cliff Watts, and "noted fashion photographer" (and ANTM judge) Nigel Barker (whom fellow blogger Jordan Reid and I giddily took pictures with early in the night).

Oh! I'd be remiss if I didn't note that this was actually the first time I ever met the Ramshackle Glam blogger in person, and I was delighted to learn that she's just as sweet in real life as she seems in her posts! She was accompanied by her equally cool (and very cute) hubby Kendrick, and the four of us spent most of the night chatting (and refilling our champagne glasses).

The food for the event was generously donated by sexy bad-boy noted chef and prolific restaurateur Todd English, who provided the party-goers with a tempting selection of treats (both savory and sweet) from his restaurant Juliet Supper Club. I nearly tipped over my champagne glass on at least three separate occasions as I dove to grab a few bites of the passing dishes.

My favorite? Definitely the Thai Chili Chicken Skewers, which were marinated in what tasted like an incredible combination of cilantro and sumac, and served with a spicy peanut coconut sauce. (Um...and I'm also just going to come right out and say that I fully plan on appropriating his Black Mission Fig and Feta Kebob idea to serve at my next party. A-mazing!)

I actually got the chance to steal away a few moments of the Chef's time to ask him a few questions. While I kept my hors d'oeuvre hijacking plot to myself, I did get him to dish on his involvement with Smiley Faces...and I basically ordered him to pick a favorite among his 8 billion restaurants [that's a guessed number; I'll fact-check it on Wikipedia later].

(And like all good food reporters, I made sure to find out what Todd English eats when Todd English is alone.)

Always Order Dessert Interview: Chef Todd English
Alejandra: How did you get involved with Smiley Faces Foundation?

Todd English: The team at the Red Bull Space introduced me to it actually. I have donated food for other charity events at The Red Bull Space in the past, so they reached out to me for this event and told me about the Smiley Faces Foundation. It sounded like such a great cause and a great event that I was happy to be a part of it.

A: You've worked with several charities like Share our Strength, Big Brothers, and The Boys & Girls Club, which do work to help children in need. Is helping children a cause that rings especially true to you?

TE: I have three children of my own--Oliver, Isabelle, and Simon--and they’re absolutely the biggest joys in my life. When I think about all the children in the world who are without, I realize how lucky my children and I are, and it makes me want to help in every way that I can. When I heard about Smiley Faces I loved the name and what the foundation represented. I’m so thankful that I can be a part of it.

A: The food at the Smiley Faces event was provided by one of your NY restaurants, Juliet, which is a little bit different than your other restaurants. Can you tell us a bit about the concept and the inspiration for the menu there?

TE: The idea for Juliet was for it to be a place where you could go with all of your friends and have a big group dinner, so everything is served family style for the whole in Israel or Greece, which are two of my favorite cuisines. The menu [at Juliet] is Middle Eastern, and we feature house-made Mezze salads, breads and spreads and shawarmas, great flavors that everyone will love.

A: Work keeps you traveling constantly. What's your favorite place in the world to visit?

TE: I love Italy- the cuisine, the language, the culture, the style, the beautiful cities and countryside- I love everything about it.

A: What about a favorite among your restaurants?

TE: Well all of my restaurants are so different, they’re like my children, so I can’t really say I have a favorite, but the Flagship Olives – Olives Boston in Charlestown, MA, is where it all started. It just had its 21st anniversary, so that one holds a special place for me definitely.

A: I took a peek at your Twitter account, and noticed that you check in pretty often ! How do you view Twitter in terms of promoting your brand and keeping in touch with your fans and customers?

TE: I love the immediacy of it. I love how I can Tweet about what’s on my mind now and what I’m doing. Ideas hit me so quickly and inspiration is everywhere so it’s great to be able to react and get the message out there to so many people.I’m always flattered that people even follow me!

A: And who do you like to follow on Twitter?

TE: I follow [mostly] media organizations- The James Beard Foundation, the Today Show, CNN...and of course I always want to know what my industry and chef friends are up to! So Emeril and Martha.

A: What other foodies do you follow online? Do you read any food blogs or have any favorite food websites?

TE: I do! I read Serious Eats, Eater, Grub Street, and Chowhound.

A: You're surrounded by fine cuisine on a daily basis, but what do you really like to eat when you're enjoying a night at home alone?

TE: Pasta. Always pasta...and a great red wine...

A: Agreed! So what's next for you this year? Anything in the works that we should keep an eye out for?

TE: Yes! This summer I’m opening my Food Hall at The Plaza Hotel- The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English, which is a European-inspired Food Hall. I’m also excited to be opening my French Brasserie Ça Va in the new Intercontinental Times Square in July. There’s a lot I’m working on, so stay tuned.


Learn more about Smiley Faces Foundation or make a donation here.

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Photo Credits: Photos of Alejandra and Alejandra & Jordan: Eugene Smolenskiy, Photo of portrait: Alejandra Ramos, Food photo: Peter Ruprecht, Todd English photo: publicity

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