“I love to see the happiness I can bring by cooking someone something that they really like, and hearing a dish make a memory is the icing on the cake.” For Chef Todd Clore, being in the kitchen is only natural. Working in a variety of restaurants before opening his own 14 years ago, Chef Clore discusses his experiences and what makes his cooking so unique.
Did being raised in Denver have any influence on you as a chef?
Being raised in Denver definitely had an influence on some of the cuisine that I do. I ran a Mexican restaurant in Denver so it gave me good insight on a different style of food that was more rustic. When I got back from culinary school Denver was a booming food place. That only lasted a little while because of the oil prices going up, and a lot of the fine dining restaurants closed. That gave me the opportunity to go somewhere else that was booming in the food scene. If that hadn’t happened I would have stayed in Denver a lot longer and who knows where that would’ve taken me.
Did you always want to be a chef?
It was a chosen thing. If I didn’t love it I wouldn’t do it. I had finished all my credits junior year of high school and there was a vocational school that had a cooking program. I thought, “This is cool, I can go to school to learn and do something I like.” I was working as a busboy at a local restaurant but didn’t love it, so I went back in the kitchen as a dishwasher. The owner told me if I had time I could help out the cooks. After about six months of working there I had done all the desserts and helped with sauces and asked, “When do I get to cook?” I ended up taking over the kitchen after two years and worked there for around five before going to the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
What was your experience at the Culinary Institute of America like?
The Culinary Institute in my opinion is the most prestigious of culinary schools. I was there in ’81 and there were probably only 1,200 people on campus so it was relatively small. People knew you’d come out with a good understanding of the kitchen if you went there, but they always told us that you’re not a chef when you come out which was really true. I found out a lot of the stuff I had learned applied more to corporate America than to me being in a physical kitchen. While there we had to do an externship at a restaurant, so I went back to Denver and worked at the number one restaurant there, Café Giovanni, where I worked for a couple months after graduation.
Can you talk a little about your experiences between school and opening Todd’s Unique Dining?
I’ve been doing this since ’77 and there are a lot of jobs you do over the years. After graduation I worked at Café Giovanni, but Denver had a small network of people in the high-end restaurants and I knew people, so after a couple months I got the opportunity to open the restaurant Cliff Young’s as the sous chef. I worked there for a few years. Then I moved to Napa Valley and got a job at Domain Chandon and spent a couple years there. Again, it’s all about the people that you know and someone I knew asked me to work in L.A. I worked at a French restaurant L’Orangerie for about two and a half years. Then I moved down to Orange County and worked for a Chinese-French restaurant for around two years and then got an opportunity to open a French restaurant called Pascal. I was there three years and that was when I started getting a good amount of press. Then I got a call to run a hotel in Laguna Beach. After a few years working there, I got a call to run Bally’s and work the Sterling Brunch. I did for 10 years, and in 2004 I left and opened Todd’s.
How often do you introduce new things to the menu? Why do you think it’s important to do this?
Daily we add and take things away on the menu by having specials, but I would say seasonally is when we do more drastic changes to the menu. Salads and appetizers will change on a seasonal basis. Entrees are always evolving. It gives me the opportunity to play and to really push to do some different things.
What makes the menu at Todd’s unique and what do you use for inspiration for creating different dishes?
We started calling it Todd’s Unique because if I want to cook Mexican one day or if I want to cook Asian one day I want to be able to do it. We have some basic things on the menu, but everything has a little twist to it. I think inspiration can be anything. I try to be current by reading and learning about what’s new. I always try to bring something different, have little ingredients I can play with and keep everything fresh. I try to always think about what we can do better.