Interview: Chef Scott Conant on Balance, Mentors + More

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Chef New York City

On July 24, the focus at All-Star Cochon was most definitely on pig, but on the other side of The Cosmopolitan’s Chelsea Ballroom, the host hotel still managed to draw crowds thanks to renowned chefs like Scott Conant, who’s based in New York and operates Scarpetta and D.O.C.G. on their East Tower’s third floor. My first experience with Conant’s cooking was at L’Impero, a high-end Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s Tudor City, in the shadow of the United Nations. Since then, he transitioned from L’Impero and Alto to Scarpetta. He now owns branches of the “little shoe” in Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, Miami and New York. He stepped away from the booth for a few minutes to provide some personal and restaurant industry insights.

How are you able to maintain balance in your life, if you’re even able to?

That’s a good question. It’s funny, I have my partners in the business that I run, but I also feel like my wife is my partner in all things, so I really need to lean on her. She’s that person who always keeps me in check, in the sense that if I’m doing too much, she’ll try to rein me in. If I’m not spending enough time at home with her or our daughter, she’s very clear about it, which is great and something that’s necessary. The best I can do.

We’re at Cochon, and pork might not necessarily be your answer, but if you could only cook with one more animal, what would it be and why?

It’s funny. It might be pork. It’s such a versatile meat. If you use the loin, it has a lot less – it’s the chicken of red meat. It’s such a versatile animal, and really has such inherent flavor, obviously, from the ears and the cartilage in the ears to the great fat content of the ribs, or whatever it is. It’s such a great animal. I don’t know how my cholesterol would feel if I only cooked with pork.

What was your very first night like working in a restaurant?

You know, I was 15 when I started working in restaurants. That was a long time ago. And I don’t remember the very first night, but I do remember it wasn’t the cleanest of restaurants, and I remember coming home every night – and I’m talking 15 years old – I was a kid still, and just smelling like this seafood restaurant, so smelling like fish and a dirty dishwasher. It was repulsive. It was pretty nasty.

Would you say that you have any mentors?

It’s hard to say. Mentors is a strong word. I’ve worked for a lot of good people. Not all the people, but some of the people I worked for, didn’t have a lot of integrity. So I think what I learned from those people – sometimes knowing what not to do, and how not to open up and operate a restaurant is equally important as how to open up and operate a restaurant. Those kinds of missteps early in my career were so advantageous later on, because it really taught me how I wanted to treat my staff, because I was never treated that way. A sense of appreciation is really important, just that little moment of saying thank you was huge for both me and them.

What do you look for when hiring somebody to work in one of your kitchens?

A sense of goodness and niceties are more important than anything else. People learning how to deal with one another and not overreact in different situations, you can’t teach that. You can teach people how to work and how to cook, and how to keep a station clean, those kinds of things, but an inherent sense of goodness can’t be taught.

What do you look for in a restaurant experience in a restaurant that isn’t yours?


Where and what do you like to drink when you’re not working?

I’m a big drinker of Macallan, Scotch whiskey. I love 18-year. It’s great. Clearly 25. Macallan is my favorite drink.

Where do you like to drink it?

Pretty much any place that I can, except the street corner or my front stoop.

Do you have any other restaurants in the works?

Nothing I can really talk about right now. I’m working on a few things, but until they come to fruition, I’d rather not jinx myself.

Can you imagine living in a city other than New York?

The thing is, I love spending time in each market that I’m in, and I look forward to spending time in different markets. Moving? I don’t know. New York is always going to be home for a lot of different reasons. It’s where my friends are. It’s where I’ve spent the last 23 years of my life. I’ve really spent a long time there. All that being said, I can imagine spending a lot of time in another city, but living full time, probably not.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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