Scott Conant: The Man Behind the Glasses
By Nycole Sariol
Photography by Nick Garcia (Blindlight Studio)
Scott Conant receives a lot of flak from his critics. His sometimes brutally honest appraisal of dishes whipped together with off-the-wall ingredients by amateur chefs, oftentimes earns him the role of the “mean guy” on the Food Network’s competition series Chopped. But there’s something he’d like to declare: “I’m much nicer than they make me look.”
It’s true; the laugh-happy guy behind a pair of thick- framed Dita Whitehall eyeglasses is as nice as they come, and was proven so during our interview on an ordinary Monday afternoon.
In his defense, Scott says the edits and strategic cuts attribute much to his sharp-tongue moments on the show. “The way they edit sometimes makes us look a little more direct and less caring of people’s feelings, which couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Typically, the depletion of one’s self-moral usually ensues after cinematographic adjustments such as these, evolving into a self-fulfilling prophecy so to speak. But for Scott, he takes all the mean-guy mumbo jumbo with a grain of salt, and instead, embraces all the quirks that come along with the biz. “I smile a lot in person, and I think that’s always edited out,” says the award-winning chef, “but it essentially makes for a better show. I doubt I’d be on people’s lips at all if I was just a ‘nice guy.’ So I deal with it.”
In fact being pinned as the Chopped bully has its unforeseen benefits. And instead of being punished, he was granted his very own commercial and partnership with the luxury car brand, Infiniti. The 31-second commercial depicts Scott on his day off picking up a pie of pizza, and his friends, in a 2015 Infiniti QX80. The gist of the commercial was warm and trustworthy, and it drove the haters into a feeding frenzy. “I get a lot of grief for that – a chef doing a car commercial, right?” he laughs. “The commercial was very much like me – approachable. There are haters obviously, but you know you’re doing something right when you have haters,” he quips. “The commercial was very personalized and that’s why it resonated so well on camera.”
Moreover, the Infiniti brand is a part of Scott’s vehicular DNA, stating that he has “driven a number of Infiniti’s over the years. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t stand behind it,” quieting the haters with a just testimony.
But Scott has nothing to prove or disprove in the kitchen; actually, it’s where all his hate mail comes to die. Having opened award-winning restaurants such as L’Impero in Manhattan back in 2002, and Scarpetta, planted in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and here in Miami at The Fontainebleau, the 30-year vet knows not of the word “worry.”
Nor does he have time for it. Especially now that he has rooted his latest dining concept, Corsair, on the Champion Miller golf course of Aventura’s Turnberry Isle Resort, nine-weeks back. And thus far, the farmhouse- cum-restaurant has hoarded nothing but praise flooding through its doors. “So far, it has received a lot of positive feedback; it’s definitely a different market than Miami itself,” says Scott. “Since the beginning, business has been well, and it’s a lot different than Scarpetta.”
The mood at Corsair is rustic; and tangible surroundings like its open kitchen concept, clean white tile backsplash, studded, tufted bar stools, and old-world geometric tiled floor play up its rusticity. Alongside New York design boutique, Meyer Davis Studio, who also takes credit for Lure Fishbar’s interior, Scott wanted to create a refined albeit comfortable space that would dignify Corsair’s Mediterranean-inspired menu. “Essentially, it gives the feeling of what the food would be like if you were eating in a farmhouse. It’s a three-meal restaurant, so it has a more casual feel,” he says of his intermittent seasonal menus that shape the restaurant’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner services.
Casual, however, does not mean that the quality of food and luxe flavors have been abandoned at Corsair, but elevated instead. Juxtaposing a farmhouse authenticity with quintessential Mediterranean plates gives way to dishes like the Short Rib Lasagna, a house favorite.“It’s not a traditional lasagna,”Scott says of his version on the Italian classic. He’s right; traditionalism is nowhere to be found beneath the flux of black truffle shavings topping the meaty bed of Fonduta cheese, tender short rib, and locally sourced winter vegetables comprising the lasagna life-changer.
It’s plain to see that every one of his menu offerings consist of an unexpected twist of some sort. Take Corsair’s pancakes for example, or “sexy” pancakes, as Scott calls them. Instead of the humdrum likes of maple syrup, Scott pours chamomile cream down their soufflé-like ridges.
Though Mediterranean flavors and unconventional interpretations have a strong presence at the restaurant, children have also been a huge influence over its menu options, and more specifically, its a la carte menu. “We just started an a la carte menu a few weeks back and the one thing I took into consideration were the children staying at the hotel. So, I had to take a different approach to a lot of things, which has mainly been to cater to families,” says the proud father of two.
Aside from the recent downpour of attention at Corsair’s doorstep, hearsay of Scott opening up another compost in New York has been something of a culinary innuendo. “I’ve got ways to go on that,” he speaks of his next foray on the restaurant scene, Conant. “Right now, my focus is really Corsair: making sure the hotel is happy with it, making sure I’m happy with it, and making sure the management is in a good place. Only then will I turn to my next project.”
What Scott doesn’t know is that turning point might rear its head sooner than he expects, judging from the crowned success of the nine-week old restaurant. But until that day of Conant’s alleged arrival in New York, Floridians will assemble to a farmhouse on a green golf course, hold their stomachs with a defeated satisfaction, and slip away into a coma-like state, induced by an unassuming rib lasagna, with no one else to blame but the nice guy behind the thick-framed glasses.
Click here to view post on the 2015 March/April issue.