By Marla Horn Lazarus
“The moment I walked into a professional kitchen for the first time, and experienced that camaraderie, I was hooked.”
You might recognize Scott Conant from his role as a judge on the Food Network hit, “Chopped.” Spending an afternoon with Scott is truly a pleasure and a ton of laughs. With a larger than life personality and a smile to light up a room, Scott brings a deft touch and unwavering passion every time he steps into a kitchen. Growing up in Connecticut, Scott took those first culinary steps, at the age of 15, in the restaurant of a family friend working his way up from dishwasher to prep cook and then fry cook. “At the end of the night, when they drove me home, I smelled like fish. I loved it! I played a lot of baseball as a kid and the camaraderie I found on a team is the same as in a restaurant. I remember telling my mother that I don’t know what I want to do in the food world, but this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Scott stated. Working 60 hours a week while attending high school, he thrived and his culinary pathway took him on a fantastic journey and he absorbed every second of it. He describes himself as an extrovert – introvert, and finds his happy place when he can shut down and hide to focus in the kitchen, but certainly loves to work a room from table to table. He continues to create singular dining experiences with soulful food and a convivial atmosphere. His career spans nearly 30 years, including multiple restaurants, an enthusiastic following of fans and an ever-expanding brand. He has established himself as one of the country’s top chefs and restaurateurs.
While at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Scott interned at the famous New York City restaurant San Domenico, an experience that he could identify with and had a decisive impact on him. Following graduation, he spent a year in Munich, Germany, mastering the art of pastry at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof and stealing every chance he got to go to Italy. Returning to the United States and San Domenico, he worked as a sous chef and assisted the restaurant to garner three stars from The New York Times. Additionally, he broke out onto the restaurant scene in his twenties, running the kitchens of famed Italian spots such as il Toscanaccio, Chianti and City Eatery, which earned glowing reviews under his leadership. Although Scott is trained in various cuisines, he was always drawn to his Italian mother’s roots that led him to a focus on Italian cooking. He states, “I started doing my own style, creating a soulful restaurant and not just soulful food on the plate. Really trying to create an environment that is upbeat, but still fine dining, fun, honest and of course soulful with a hint of comfortable elegance. As we say in Italian Sprezzatura or the art of making the elegant look easy. I like to think that’s what I do…Sprezzatura.”
He officially put his name on the map when he opened the beloved L’Impero in 2002. It garnered a three-star review from The New York Times, the title of “Best New Restaurant” from the James Beard Foundation and praise from top publications such as Gourmet and Food & Wine, which named Scott one of America’s Best New Chefs in 2004. Following the success of L’Impero, he opened Alto, an elegant Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Always looking to raise the bar, Scott eventually moved on to bring his own vision of sophisticated, savory Italian cooking to life with Scarpetta, which he now operates in Miami and Las Vegas. In March 2016, Scott opened Impero Caffè, a relaxed Italian spot for all-day dining at the INNSIDE New York Hotel that serves a variety of antipasti and housemade pastas, the hallmarks of his cuisine. Recently, in January he opened Mora Italian, a modern, convivial osteria in Phoenix, Arizona. In recent years, Scott has also opened D.O.C.G. Enoteca, a casual wine bar at The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. He has also unveiled his SC Culinary Suite, a beautiful private loft and event space in SoHo where he can interact directly with guests and bring them his special brand of hospitality through private dinners, cocktail parties and cooking demos.
Around 2008, Scott received a call from the Food Network regarding Chopped and took a chance on a different platform. “I had a few restaurants at that time and it was a perfect marketing medium for me to advertise. Tasting some of the crazy exotic dishes at 8:00am, like duck testicles, I had to talk my self into it,” he laughed. As a TV personality, Scott has appeared on the Today Show, The Chew, CBS’ The Talk, Live with Kelly & Michael and Good Morning America, and is a regular judge on Chopped, consistently one of Food Network’s highest rated programs.
With a new restaurant opening and three cookbooks published; New Italian Cooking, Bold Italian and The Scarpetta Cookbook, Scott says, “I’m a cook and a chef, written a few cookbooks and do some things on TV, but all in all, I’m an entrepreneur with a great team that work with me trying to execute a vision.” As Scott continues to embark on new opportunities, he looks forward to sharing his enduring philosophy: savor the pure pleasure of food, down to its last taste. As for the future, Scott says, “We are kicking the tire, so to speak, and working on some things to take us to the next level.”
Thu, Feb 23 – 7:00 PM – TV in the Kitchen Dinner – Scarpetta at Fontainebleau, Miami Beach
Fri, Feb 24 – 7:30 PM – Fontainebleau Miami Beach presents Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best
Sat, Feb 25 – 10:00 PM – Food Fight Fri, Feb 24 Monty’s Sunset on South Beach- 300 Alton Road, Miami Beach