Chef Todd English is a busy man. In just the past six months he opened several diverse restaurants from coast to coast—including Ça Va, a French-style brasserie in New York; Todd English P.U.B. in Las Vegas; the Summer House Restaurant and the Beachside Bistro, both on Nantucket; and the Plaza Food Hall by Todd English at the Plaza Hotel. But he still finds time to entertain friends and family at home with memorable meals that involve his guests partaking in the preparation. Here, English reveals how he entertains at home.
What makes a great dinner party?
When everybody pitches in and cooks it is much more fun. I like informal dining, lots of small dishes, candles, good music such as the Buddha Bar mix and maybe a little Frank Sinatra, tablecloths, and wine on the table.
What is your style of entertaining at home?
Dinner parties are more informal these days. People like to hang out in my kitchen and everyone helps, and sometimes we videotape the process to watch after the meal for laughs. I like to make lots of little dishes so people can share and have different experiences on their plates.
What are your favorite cocktails?
Homemade Bloody Mary, blackberry Bellini, and Dark ’n’ Stormy. I also like some old classic cocktails like a Manhattan, but with my own twist.
How do you select the wines?
I pair the wines with the food that I’m serving. My favorite wines to serve are Jax Vineyards’ 2009 Y3 Chardonnay Napa Valley, Château d’Esclans 2009 Whispering Angel Rosé Côtes de Provence, and Tenuta Guado al Tasso Il Bruciato 2007 Bolgheri, Tuscany (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot).
How do you like to set the table?
I’m always buying pottery and different things when I travel, and I look for interesting, fun vessels for decoration and serving food. I have a big ceramic chicken for serving chicken soup, and I might put lasagna in a giant pumpkin. I like to make it fun.
How do you plan the menu?
Sometimes it is themed, like a Southern meal, and I’ll serve little pulled-pork sandwiches and chicken-pie meatballs. I don’t usually do things in courses. I might have an artichoke-guacamole appetizer, salads, and then grilled meats or fish, but everyone is grazing throughout the evening. I like to serve the food in the middle of a table, buffet-style.
What are some of your favorite dishes to serve around the holidays?
Sweet-potato soup with yogurt and fig; seared scallops with sugar pumpkin; lasagna and brown-butter hazelnuts; pan-roasted rack of venison with chestnut mac and cheese.
What do you serve for dessert?
I like to make homemade ice cream such as a jalapeño-apple-and-caramel ice cream or a superrich vanilla bean.
Do your guests leave with parting gift?
My guests love to take home leftovers. I always have to-go containers on hand so people can leave with something.