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Chef Todd English continues to help shape Las Vegas food scene

Updated August 13, 2022 - 1:06 pm

Todd English is a Las Vegas chef for all seasons. Over the past 25 years, as the city became a top town for dining, the chef was there, helping to shape the shift (while also building a global culinary fiefdom).

The chef was there at Onda, creating menus for the onetime restaurant in The Mirage, the OG of megaresorts on the Strip. He was there in 1998 at the launch of Bellagio, debuting a desert outpost of Olives, the Boston restaurant that made him famous; Olives would remain open there for nearly two decades. Another Strip venture, Todd English P.U.B., also had a good run.

In early 2021, continuing the trend of leading chefs taking their talents off-Strip, English opened his Beast food hall at Area15. Later that year, Olives returned to town, this time at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. About six months ago, The English Hotel and its Pepper Club restaurant arrived in the Arts District, one of the city’s buzziest food and drink destinations.

The chef has been in hospitality for more than four decades, but the hotel marks his first gig as an innkeeper. That fact sank in, he said, “when I saw it in print: restaurateur and hotelier. I love hotels. I’ve stayed in so many hotels. It was a natural leap into the next phase of what we do.”

One recent afternoon, at a table in The Pepper Club, the chef sat down with the Review-Journal to discuss the hotel and restaurant, the state of his other Vegas projects and what lies ahead for him here (hint: speed).

Sushi meets lobby

The menu at The Pepper Club (named for the chef’s dog) could easily be called fusion. But it could just as easily be called a celebratory union of two traditions — Mediterranean and Japanese cooking (or, more broadly, Asian cooking) — beloved by the chef. What does that look like on the plate?

A kale and avocado salad with pickled plum dressing, or grilled octopus with sesame. Grilled asparagus with togarashi or chicken marinated in cherry blossom shoyu or a Soba U Up Burger swiped with miso honey mustard.

There’s also a sushi and raw bar with raw items like sake-oyster shooters, sushi rolls, sashimi, omakase platters, and specialty baubles like chirashi royale: tamago, uni, fish, Osetra caviar and a spatter of gold flakes atop sushi rice.

Although having a hotel bearing his name now requires the chef to think about things like the check-in experience or the display of art or how a low-key cool should flow throughout, from lobby to pool to guest rooms, “we will always be food and beverage driven,” English said. And that includes room service.

Beast mode: fun!

Through Sept. 5, The Pepper Club is joining with the Particle Ink: Speed of Dark venue to offer a dinner-and-show package ($120 inclusive) on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays. The package begins with a four-course set menu, and choices for the first three courses include the miso shimeji soup, tempura shrimp with unagi and black pepper teriyaki short ribs.

After dinner, folks walk across Main Street to Particle Ink, where they can explore an abandoned warehouse with a portal to another dimension, an immersive experience created through live performance, street art and interactive technology.

“It is exciting to bring a new collaboration to the neighborhood,” English said, calling Particle Ink, “a great complement to the one-of-a-kind experience we’re creating at The Pepper Club.”

Over at Area15, another one of the immersive purveyors that seem to be everywhere in Vegas these days, the chef called his Beast food hall “probably the most fun I’m having, making food that pops off the plate, the theatrical side of things.”

The Kraken burger certainly pops (and towers and flexes its biceps), with five beef patties, five slices of cheese, grilled onions, classic fixings, house sauce and wee octo dog.

James Beard reunion

Besides Las Vegas, there are Olives restaurants in Nassau, Bahamas, and in Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates.

“It’s an international brand,” the chef rightly noted, but “it’s a homegrown brand here as well. It feels very at home there (in Virgin Hotels). The locals really know it from many different experiences.”

Those experiences are expanding in 2022 with a dinner, still being planned, offering tequila-spiked dishes paired with tequila cocktails; English will host. Another dinner being considered would feature chefs who have worked for English and have gone on to win James Beard Awards of their own (English has five). The chefs would return to Olives, in Vegas, to prepare a special meal with English.

Early in his career, he cooked with chef Jean-Jacques Rachou at the legendary La Côte Basque in New York City. As Rachou was to English then, English is now to rising chefs.

“He was a great mentor,” English said of Rachou. “He really stood behind the people that stood behind him. I feel the same way. That’s what I love the most: working with chefs that are up-and-coming and young and ambitious and want to do great things and sacrifice whatever they have to sacrifice to get there.”

At the races

The other afternoon, Todd English needed to keep to his schedule. No surprise there. Among the projects ahead, he’s the chef for a big dinner at The Smith Center, and during next month’s Life is Beautiful festival, his hospitality group is presenting a daily culinary pop-up.

In May, the chef hosted a $12,000 a plate dinner on a superyacht during the Formula One Miami Grand Prix. When F1 comes to Vegas in 2023 — as the city expands its global entertainment draw — English will be headlining culinary events, his team confirmed.

It’s cooking, in the fast lane.

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.

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