Now He’s Talking! New Sin City Resident Todd English Talks Taking Home Las Vegas’ Chef Of The Year



Let the record show: Las Vegas truly suits Todd English. The charismatic celebrity chef has been having one hell of a time in Sin City since moving here during the heart of the pandemic, choosing to make the desert his home base as he launched four large scale projects. And though it might have been a temporary move to start, he’s fallen in love with all that The Strip (and beyond) has to offer. And it shows, given that he was named the Las Vegas Food & Wine Festival’s 2022 Chef of the Year.

In no particular order, English opened the Las Vegas branch of his Italian staple Olives at the Virgin Hotel, the first of which debuted in 1989; as well as The Beast, a meat-based eatery at Area 15 just outside of Meow Wolf; The ENGLiSH Hotel, the first boutique hotel in Sin City and his first hotel full stop, located in the Arts District; as well as its accompanying restaurant, the Pepper Club, an Asian ocean fusion and sushi bar concept with locally sourced ingredients.

I caught up with the multiple James Beard Award winner and restauranteur to chat about everything from his Las Vegas locations, to his attempt at RV life, to how he’s getting into the mushroom and cannabis game — and helping to heal NFL players in the process. I promise you, like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, there’s never a dull moment here!

Todd EnglishPhoto Credit: Shane O’Neal

Haute Living: Are you living in Las Vegas full-time or part-time?
Todd English: I’m full-time Vegas; like, all my stuff is there. You know? I still have my digs in New York, but I’m really mostly in Vegas. So, crazy, right?

HL: What made you move to Vegas?
TE: Well, you know, it was the pandemic. I was like, I’m not staying in New York. I tried Mexico for a little while, but that was a little hairy. And then I went to California for a little while; I have some friends there. And then I was like, screw it. I’ve got four projects I’m working on in Vegas, including a hotel, so I might as well go there for now. I’ve been there for two years now, and it’s great.

HL: You’ve got so much going on there. Your hotel is just six months old, correct?
TE: It opened in March, yes.

HL: Wow. How has it been going? And what was the intention behind the hotel?
TE: It’s fun. I’ve probably spent more time in hotels than I have in my own home in the last 20 years. That’s just how it is. So, you know, I always felt like it would be a natural extension for the brand, and really, the idea that it’s a hospitality, food-driven hotel is in line with my brand. Is it 100 percent where I want it to be? No, but I really enjoy it.

HL: So what else are you working on project-wise in Las Vegas?
TE: We have the hotel, The Beast at Area 15, Olives at the Virgin Hotel, and then The Pepper Club at the hotel, which is our sushi slash Mediterranean thing that we’re doing, which is fun. In the meantime, Vegas has been a good jumping-off spot for me. I opened Olives back in 1998, originally when the Bellagio opened, so I’ve been in Vegas for a long time, doing business. Steve Wynn brought me out there. So I opened at The Mirage, I did his golf club, I did another project with him at his hotel in Biloxi. So he kept me busy, for sure.

HL: And what made you stay?
TE: I moved there in the pandemic because my children wouldn’t have me. They said, ‘Dad, you can’t stay.’ I went to LA, and I’m thinking I can go to my boys, who have a house in Venice Beach, and I can hang out with them. And they’re like, ‘No, dad. We don’t want to get you sick.’ And I’m like, ‘What, what?’ So, that didn’t work out. I rented a RV, thinking I would drive around and visit people in my RV. That lasted about four days. It’s not for me.

Todd EnglishPhoto Credit: Shane O’Neal

HL: I cannot imagine living out of an RV. As a chef, how did you cook out of an RV? How is that possible? How did you do it?
TE: I don’t know. I didn’t even cook. I just went for tacos every night. That’s kind of what I did. But yeah, that’s what I did. It was not for me. So, I just ended up going to Vegas and I lived at The Cosmopolitan for six weeks. And then eventually, I got an apartment. Oh, and in the meantime, I also built a house. So, my house is out in Southern Highlands. I built a beautiful… I decided to buy and purchase a house because I was bored I guess, I don’t know! So, it was built by Blue Heron. I think we’re moving in next month, at the beginning of October. So, that’s pretty cool. It’s got a great kitchen, of course. So I’m excited about that.

HL: Just in time to receive Chef of the Year, I hear.
TE: Wow, I know, it’s exciting. I’m very excited about that. It’s an honor. I mean, there’s a lot of chefs in that town, so to be ‘the one’ is great. I feel very, very flattered.

HL: It’s amazing – such an honor. But I want to talk about your hotel for a beat. I read that it was for the “cultural renegade.” What does that mean?
TE: Well, the area kind of speaks that language. Okay, so in other words, if you think of Design District in Miami 25 years ago. You know, so that was sort of the renegade element. Back then, people were like, ‘Oh, I’m not coming here.’ A nice way of putting it would have been to say that other different walks of life will go there. It starts out that way and then becomes a very artistic crowd that goes in. And once that happens it starts getting gentrified. And that’s what’s really happening with the Arts District, which is very cool. It’s got a bunch of little warehouses, a company that has autonomous cars. I’ve already gone in Elon Musk’s tunnel; he has the tunnels in Vegas. Have you seen that?

HL: I haven’t experienced it yet. What was that like?
TE: I went on a ride the other day. It was pretty cool through there; it’s like being in a video game. And then, so, these are like four or five of these autonomous car companies coming to Vegas, because Vegas may be one of the first places that allows it. So, anyway, they’re literally right across from the hotel; it’s becoming a bit of a techy area, so artsy. I keep wanting to push people to paint the walls and make it a little like Wynwood walls. So, we did that at the hotel as well. So, that’s sort of the meaning of it, I guess in a nutshell. It’s a little radical, a little offbeat. It’s not The Strip, it’s local. And that’s what’s cool. You know, one thing I learned when I moved there, and I guess you’ll understand this, too, there is a pretty cool local crowd. Where the Arts District is a big mix of everybody. So it can be the cast from a Cirque du Soleil show. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights when they’re dark, you get a lot of those kinds of people in the restaurant. It’s a great crowd; cultured, traveled, and they don’t want to be on The Strip. They want to [have] something that they feel is their own spot to hang out at.

HL: Was that intentional for you, not wanting to be on the strip? Or are you looking to be there in the future?
TE: I wanted to give it a try, you know. And I felt that I’d been on The Strip, and I saw this as an opportunity. Something that is hopefully something that is going to grow and continue to grow. Any of the plans that I’ve seen — and I’ve worked with the mayor and some of the local city planners — I’ve seen a lot of stuff that is being proposed, including a road that looks like Melrose, and there are going to be shops on either side. I bought a puppy, and I was living in the towers right near there. During the pandemic, my girlfriend and I were like, ‘Well, where do we go?’ We love to walk, but there’s really no place to walk in Vegas. I mean, I’m a New Yorker, and in New York, I walk everywhere. So, it felt like it was one of the places that you could actually walk and have a cup of coffee. There’s some cool coffee shops down there. They’re really trying to make it a shopping, walking area with art galleries and things like that. So, it’s feeling like it’s got some good growth potential down there.

HL: Are you planning on hotel expansion anywhere?
TE: Oh yeah, yeah. Definitely. We’re looking internationally right now. We’ve got, some international locations also hitting the big cities, obviously; some of the secondary cities we’re looking at as well. So we’re excited about that, but first, we wanted to see what one would do. And so far, investors are happy; everybody’s happy. We’re really the only boutique hotel in Vegas.

HL: Very cool. On another note, I hear you’re doing some experiential dining in Connecticut. Are you implementing that in Las Vegas?
TE: That’s something we’re working on working on. The futuristic sort of dining and experiential stuff; creating, like, a house of mushrooms, and in that house of mushrooms there’ll be many preparations of that. And whether it’s mushroom coffee, mushroom extract as a juice, I’m trying to look at all of those things that are also playful as far as interactive video. You could be at the fish counter or sushi bar, and you’re sort of sitting in a sea of waves or there could be a large octopus that runs across the back of the wall. That’s the part of the interactive, experiential dining that you’re talking about. We’re starting to see a lot more of that now. So we’re dipping our toe in that.

Todd EnglishPhoto Credit: Shane O’Neal

HL: Well okay, so we’re deep-diving into mushrooms and cannabis. You created a cannabis line. What was the impetus there?
TE: Well, it started out as a medicinal thing for my sister years ago; she ended up passing away from cancer, so I started experimenting with it, because she was so sick because of the chemo, and it seemed to work. This [was] before it was even legal in Boston, although it was easy to get. So I started experimenting with extracts and oils and putting it in with her food and sometimes in drinks and stuff, and it just seemed to help her pain. This was 20 years ago, and I saw the hell she went through. As it progressed, we ended up seeing the recreational side of it. We’re still looking at the medicinal side of it. We made the macaroni and cheese. I’ve done a lot of work with charity, and I also did a lot of work with HSN, selling products. And they came to us and asked us if we would donate macaroni and cheese to terminally ill kids. So, that’s pretty amazing. You know, the fact that they’re looking at things like this so progressively now, that we can give things to kids that made them feel better in a natural way, free of chemicals, was amazing.

I’ve also been working with the NFL, reaching out with them about head injuries, et cetera. Those are things from the medicinal standpoint that are exciting. And then, obviously, there’s the recreational side. And it’s a pretty darn good macaroni and cheese. I always say to my kids, ‘I only had kids so I could eat macaroni and cheese out of a box and not feel guilty about it.’

HL: So, what are you doing with the NFL exactly?
TE: Some of these resorts that we’ve been working on are also medical retreats, to do with different treatments to help with head injuries, especially. That’s the biggest thing in NFL, obviously head injuries and head traumas and broken bones, et cetera. So, we’ve been approached to supply NFL players with that as well.

HL: Oh wow. So, we’re talking on a good, nice therapeutic level. Not on an Aaron Rodgers Ayahuasca level.
TE: No, no, no. This is like micro-dosing. I think, especially with mushrooms, it’s the next big thing.

HL: So, how did that come to be, micro-dosing for athletes?
TE: Oh, micro-dosing? It’s the guys who we get our cannabis oils from; they’ve turned us on to the psilocybin side of mushrooms. And you’ve seen a lot of that with the micro-dosing especially in software companies, et cetera. You see the kind of heady kind of things — and people are doing it, and people getting off of opioids, getting off of antidepressants. I’m interested; it sparked my interest. It’s not like I even really like doing mushrooms. I mean, maybe I’ll occasionally do it, but I don’t really like it. But I get it. I understand that, especially, there are guys in Silicon Valley that are doing it. It’s interesting. And I always try to stay ahead of the curve and stay on with what’s trending.

Also, I believe that food is still our greatest medicine. Like, I’m working with the Nutre guys, and we’re doing stuff sort of in the blue zone area. I’ve always been a Mediterranean guy. There’s all these trends for diets. There’s always, you know, are you on keto diet? Paleo diet? Who knows what diet everybody goes on these days. And really, I think you go back to just eating sensibly and eating right, and eating the right foods that give you the right stuff all day. And if it’s two glasses of red wine and a cup of olive oil and grease, well, okay — I’m in.

HL: What else are you doing in that space?
TE: I’m working also with another group, Boku Superfoods, as well. Boku Superfoods is out of Ojai, California. That’s where I was staying, actually. Boku Superfoods have been around about 20 years, but we’re going to be expanding their cafes with them. We have a mushroom coffee that we’re doing and all these different shakes with the plant-based proteins, et cetera. So, you’re seeing a lot of that happening, too. So, I try to be progressive and see what’s out there and stick to also what I like and do and what I feel is my sweet spot, but also always looking at what’s next.

Also, I really think that what we’ve done in this country to our food supply chain is horrible, and we need to fix it. I’m trying to do a lot of work in that and in anywhere I can help as far as helping with hunger. It’s bizarre to me that a million to two million people living in New York City go hungry every day. It’s a sad thing. So, those are all things that we need to work on. I don’t mean to be getting on my soapbox here, but, you know what I’m saying. So, as a chef and a food person, I feel like it’s one of those things that I feel I would want to be responsible for.

HL: Last question here, what to you is the greatest luxury in life, and why?
TE: It’s really simple. For me, the greatest luxury is being around the table with some good friends making a delicious whatever-it-is and being with my kids. So, really, that’s all I care about — and my little dog. It’s a very simple thing, but it’s my happiest place in the planet.

Todd EnglishPhoto Credit: Shane O’Neal