Chef Todd Allison Makes Pretty Food (Fast) in San Diego

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 16:56
Posted in category From the Kitchen, Restaurant Buzz
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by Elizabeth Salaam |

At first, it’s hard to tell if Chef Todd Allison (of Anthology) is a solemn guy or if he just needs time to warm up. He sits across from me at one of Anthology’s tall bar tables drinking coffee out of a paper cup. He offers me some, and it’s not not more than five minutes before he’s smiling and telling me about his puppy. (Whew!) Don’t let his impeccable posture and serious face fool you. He swears he’s a laid-back guy.

Chef Todd Allison

Chef Todd Allison

“I’m probably one of the calmest chefs ever,” he says. ”I’ve worked for yelling chefs, and the way I see it, it’s possible to teach a person how to cook without yelling at them.”

The no-yelling rule might sound simple until you take into consideration the amount of pressure his kitchen is under every night. While a typical restaurant staggers reservations, thus keeping the pace at a steady flow throughout the evening, Anthology is a San Diego supper club that doesn’t accept reservations. Guests come in one big rush centered around performance time.

“Our doors open at 5:30,” Allison says, “but people tend to come closer to show time. Most shows begin at 7:30, so they’ll come in around 7, hoping to have their meals in front of them by the time the show starts.”

Pan-seared salmon. Yum.

Pan-seared salmon. Yum.

What this means for Allison and his gang in the kitchen is that they might get 200 orders at once. Because of this, he has created dishes built around speed. Most have fewer ingredients than he’d like to play with artistically. And, yes, he does sometimes miss the slower pace, but he believes “there’s a time and a place to be an artist.” Besides, the crazy pace of the just-before-showtime rush makes time fly.

Allison does admit to one rule: Please keep it down. With so much happening and so many people in the kitchen at once, the noise can get out of control.

“There shouldn’t be more than a few people talking at once,” he says. “Some nights, all I want to hear is pans.”

Oooh. Curried duck.

Oooh. Curried duck.

Even with the intense pace, you can’t take artistry out of the equation. Even though he works in slightly more confining parameters than he was accustomed to in the fine-dining establishments of his past, Allison does have full freedom of the menu at Anthology. Along with the creation of each dish (you can’t tell me those brussels sprouts aren’t pretty), he also finds the time to add in little bits of artistry where he can. On a slower night, for example, he’ll take an extra step that adds to the presentation of each dish.

Brussels sprouts never looked so delicious.

Brussels sprouts never looked so delicious.

Favorite Dog Beach: Coronado Dog Beach

“I have a new puppy, a Lab/Pit mix named Lily. She loves this beach. It’s big and clean. Also, I grew up in Coronado, so it’s home to me.”

Favorite Surf Beach: Black’s Beach – La Jolla

“It has the best waves in Southern California.”

Favorite Sushi: Azuki Sushi – Bankers Hill

“For one, I like this place because it’s open on Mondays, which is my day off. A lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays. I just go in, sit down, and I’m at their mercy. I tell them what I like, and they’ve never let me down. I’m into yellowtail, octopus, Spanish mackerel, anything spicy or citrusy.

Favorite Market: Little Italy Farmers’ Market

“It’s right up the street from my home and the restaurant. And I have a good relationship with the farmers. If I can’t make it to the market, I call, and they’ll usually stop by the restaurant on their way out of town.”


Ever wonder if chefs watch cooking shows? Count Allison among those who do.

“Top Chef is the best one,” he tells me.

Don’t tell anyone, but Anthology might have to give him a leave of absence some time in the coming year.

“I’m waiting for the next Top Chef auditions,” he says.

Hmmmm. Based on his obvious culinary time-management skills, the contest pressures should be a breeze.

Our fingers are crossed, Chef Todd!

All photos courtesy of Anthology.