Todd Kelly, Executive Chef and Director of Food & Beverage at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, is responsible for creating the distinct menu for Orchids at Palm Court, The Grille at Palm Court and The Bar at Palm Court. He oversees all culinary operations for the restaurants and bar, in-room dining and banquet and wedding menus as well as managing a culinary team of 170. He is also responsible for maintaining the standard of quality and service for both Orchids and private events that has made the historic hotel a premier choice for weddings and events. Recently, Venue sat down with Kelly to learn more about his culinary approach and what makes him tick.
Venue Magazine: What is your earliest cooking memory?
Todd Kelly: When I was young my mom did all of the cooking. I was not very interested in cooking until I was a little older. When I was 12 and living in Mauritius, my brother and I wanted to recreate comfort foods from home. We made steak frites, or steak with French fries as we called it then.
This became a weekly rotation in our dinner lineup.
Venue Magazine: How did you first become a chef?
Todd Kelly: My older brother is a chef. When I was about to turn 17, my brother got me a job at the restaurant he worked at before he went to culinary school. In Pennsylvania, you had to be that age to work in kitchens. I didn’t really take it seriously for a few years. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a chef, but I was sure that I didn’t want to sit in an office. I really became focused and concentrated on becoming a chef when I was 21.
Venue Magazine: How did growing up in New York influence your approach to cooking?
Todd Kelly: I think it gave me an advantage. At the time there was no internet, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. You really had to rely on real life experiences. I was fortunate that my family really liked to eat out, so I was exposed to a ton of different cuisines at a young age. I think that is why my food is so broad. I really enjoy a wide spectrum of flavors.
Venue Magazine: How would you describe your unique style of cooking?
Todd Kelly: It is really ingredient focused. We never first think of the dish, the preparation technique or flavors. We source the best ingredients and then use these as the foundation for each dish. It may be a wonderful lamb loin, corn meal or a bergamot (orange). The ingredients are always the stars.
Venue Magazine: How is the culinary team of the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza uniquely prepared to deliver in terms of catering large-scale events and weddings on the property?
Todd Kelly: We have a very diverse culinary team. We use the same focus on our food in all of our outlets. Our approach for large-scale events and weddings is a little different than in the restaurants. We still focus on quality ingredients, but we tend to think of the flavor profiles as a little more rounded. We want to make sure that we are making the entire group feel comfortable with all the flavors.
Venue Magazine: What has been one of the most interesting, unique or challenging events the culinary team has catered over the years?
Todd Kelly: We have had a bunch over the years. Some of my favorites are trying to recreate memories that people have. It’s always fun and challenging to take someone’s thoughts of what they remember dishes to be. We take those memories, make them our own and try to modernize them – all while elevating their memories.
Venue Magazine: How has the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza evolved to position itself as a key player in the local event/wedding scene?
Todd Kelly: We continue to evolve and focus on new trends. What we did last year will not work again this year. We focus on continual evolution of products, themes, designs and presentations. It’s challenging with social circles as no one wants to be the second one with a particular theme, so it keeps us on our toes.
Venue Magazine: Thinking of the menu for events and catering, what is the top dish? Which dish are you most proud of? Any particularly unique dishes?
Todd Kelly: I’m proud of all of them. It’s always great when the timing works out perfectly for an event and you can showcase a really unique seasonal product that is only available for a very small window. We also like to utilize ingredients that are common and prepare them in unique ways or use exotic ingredients as the undertone of the dish. Last week, we did a wonderful preparation of four different types of asparagus, a corn cracker, poached egg and it was finished with Shad Roe Bottarga. It was the wow factor for the flavor of the dish.
Venue Magazine: What do you find delights brides when they have their wedding at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza?
Todd Kelly: Brides want their days to be special. They are looking for every aspect of the wedding to "wow" their guests. We are confident that our unique and breathtaking event space, outstanding service and unparalleled food and beverage is the right combination that creates a very special wedding and the memory of a lifetime.
Venue Magazine: What unique qualities help set the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza apart in the local catering landscape?
Todd Kelly: There are a lot of things that I feel are distinctive. We have an amazing culinary and service staff. Our staff is extremely creative and always willing to go the extra mile. We also have the most beautiful ballrooms in the country.
The Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza culinary team is led by Executive Chef Todd Kelly and supported by Pastry Chef Megan Ketover. Kelly is one of just six Hilton Hotels Signature Chefs and is the recipient of the USA Chef of the Year from the American Culinary Federation, the highest honor given by the chef organization of more than 20,000 chefs. Ketover has also won multiple awards and honors, and has competed on Food Network’s "Challenge" and on Bravo’s "Top Chef Just Desserts." In March, Hilton Hotels and Resorts recognized the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza as the No. 1 Food & Beverage Hotel in North America. This was a record setting seventh time the hotel has won this award.
The Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel is located at 35 West Fifth Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information, call 513.421.9100 or visit www.cincinnatinetherlandplaza.hilton.com.