Q & A With Scott Conant: Scarpetta, Vice Squads, and Why He Couldn't Make It as a Plumber
N. Galuten Scott Conant in front of his new kitchen at Scarpetta Beverly Hills
Right now, Scott Conant is one of our country's biggest names in Italian cooking. Conant's flagship restaurant, Scarpetta, just opened its fourth location in late October, at the Montage Beverly Hills. The 39-year-old chef is also a popular television personality, working as a judge on Food Network's Chopped, and as the host of 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. He has also appeared on everything from Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, to Top Chef (as a judge), to Martha Stewart Living.
Soon after opening Scarpetta in Beverly Hills, Conant took the time to sit down and chat with us by the kitchen. Of course, we also couldn't stop ourselves from ordering a plate of his much-acclaimed spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and basil (recipe coming later this week). Yes, we paid for it, and yes, it's worth it.
Squid Ink: You opened back in October. How's everything going so far?
Scott Conant: Great, you know, all things considered. There's something to be said when customers leave, and they make reservations on the way out the door. For me, that's a tell-tale sign that we're doing something right.
SI: So, this is your fourth Scarpetta. But my question is, how do you go to Miami and Toronto before you come to Los Angeles?
SC: The way growth works, the way I was thinking about it was, by staying on the East Coast, I could really control it a little bit better. Then, coming to Los Angeles literally fell on our plate. It was something we were working on, but we weren't sure we were going to be able to get the deal done. So then we made the leap. And I wanted to do it before we went to Vegas. I thought that was important. But the way I was thinking about that growth strategy, with New York, Miami, and Toronto -- if we're in Miami, and there's a problem, it's a three hour flight. We can be there the same evening. If we get a phone call at noon, we can probably be there for dinner. It doesn't necessarily work that way when you have to go across time zones. If we were in L.A. and had to be in New York, it's a little more difficult.
SI: I guess it's easier knowing what obstacles to expect in L.A., having done it a few times already.
SC: Exactly, and well, you know, we've encountered markets where people have high standards and high expectations, so, we needed to get some things under our belt as well, to really create the structure that was necessary for going across the country.
SI: What makes opening in L.A. different from opening everywhere else?
SC: I have never experienced, just...there's so many celebrities, and so many actors, and producers, and people who are coming through the door. Last night, randomly -- I'm not gonna name names -- but we had a big music artist walk through the door, and a really big actor walk in the door. I mean, it's just kind of random. We had no idea these people were showing up. Normally in New York we get a heads up, we get a phone call from PR people, or handlers, or security, or whatever it is.
But here, people just kind of pop in, and either want to be on the down-low, and they'll sit in the back, in the kitchen at the chef's table, or they'll sit in the dining room and kind of be discreet and under the radar. So it's all good. But otherwise, I think we have to be a little more conscious of what we're putting on the plate. Because, you know, I've only heard rumors about how people send things back. Other chefs have told me, who have restaurants here and restaurants on the East Coast, but I haven't actually found that to be the case yet. Everybody's been pretty warm.
SI: They'll wait until you leave, and then they'll start sending things back.
SC: [Laughs] We hope not, we hope not.
SI: So let's take it back a bit. Where are you from?
SC: Originally I'm from Connecticut. But I've lived in New York for about 21 years. And recently, I moved my wife and nine-month-old daughter out here. We're kind of jumping back and forth, but they're here full-time.
SI: So are you gonna be spending a lot of time here?
SC: It always depends on where the wife is happiest. The old expression is, "happy wife, happy life." I think we're gonna have her spending time here and New York, kind of jumping back and forth. And I'm gonna go where I'm needed. I need to spend time at each one of my restaurants, but I can see the majority of my time really being spent on both coasts.
SI: And when do you open in Vegas?
SI: From what I've been able to gather, you started cooking, and studying cooking, when you were really young.
SC: I was 15.
SI: How did that come about?
SC: I went to a vocational school, and initially I wanted to get into the plumbing program, but I couldn't get in. Too many people applied, so as a second choice I chose culinary arts. But I tell people I still wear my pants like that every once in a while.
SI: I guess culinary schools are a little more difficult to get into now.
SC: Yeah, it didn't used to be that way. That was the mid-80s.
SI: Were you one of those people who wanted to move to New York City the moment you were old enough?
SC: I moved at 18.
SI: And you went to CIA [Culinary Institute of America], right?
SC: Yes, CIA.