Upon meeting Celebrity Chef Scott Conant—an uber-talented chef, entrepreneur, TV personality and cookbook author—you’ll likely feel an instant connection. The chef is engaging, entertaining, humble and eminently likable. He is willing to share his setbacks as well as his successes, to talk about restaurant openings as well as closings.
Conant was raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, a city known for having the largest number of citizens of Italian descent, in a state with one of the highest proportions of Italians in the country. His passion for Italian cooking derived from his mother’s side of the family tree. His signature dish, Pasta Al Pomodoro (spaghetti with simmered plum tomatoes and basil), is one of the best representations of simple Italian fare—with recipes to replicate the dish all over the Internet.
As he recounts his story, Conant could easily have become a plumber—except he wasn’t accepted to the training program. So, he wound up studying culinary arts at a local vocational high school, attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), mastered pastry-making during a stint in Germany, and honed his culinary skills at some of the finest Italian kitchens in New York City before opening his eatery.
That restaurant, L’Impero, an Italian bistro that opened in 2002, garnered a three-star review from The New York Times and was named “Best New Restaurant” by the James Beard Foundation. In 2004, Food and Wine recognized Conant as one of America’s Best New Chefs. Since then, he’s launched other restaurants in New York and other major cities across the country, known for their people-pleasing menus that bring a touch of sophistication, elegance and zest to authentic Italian cooking.
He’s appeared on The Today Show, The Chew, CBS’ The Talk, and Good Morning America; has been a host on Best Baker in America and Beat Bobby Flay; and is a regular judge on Chopped.
He’s a man on the move, literally and figuratively, putting a spin on traditional Italian cuisine and always on the search for new culinary challenges.
Conant currently helms the kitchens at Mora Italian, an upscale osteria in Phoenix, and at his newest venture, Cellaio, an Italian steakhouse at Resorts World Catskills in Monticello, New York. He recently launched Sprezza, a new line of cooking and pantry essentials.
Forbes.com met up with Chef Conant at Cellaio:
With restaurants in New York and Phoenix, and appearances across the globe, how much traveling do you do each year?
Chef Scott Conant: That depends on the time of year. I generally split my time between Scottsdale and New York but when I am filming, I am traveling a lot more. It also depends on the appearances I have lined up. This year I was able to attend food festivals in Chicago, Los Angeles and Cincinnati. I love being able to travel for work because I get to meet and cook for remarkable people all over the country.
How do you balance spending time in multiple locations with your family life?
SC: My number one priority in life is my family. When I am home, I spend as much time as possible with them. This includes cooking with my daughters, ages 7 and 9—they really enjoy being involved in the process. I love introducing them to new ingredients and it makes me happy to see them being so receptive to it.
What impact has your Italian heritage had on your cooking?
SC: Growing up in the Northeast as an Italian-American has greatly influenced my cooking style. From my grandmother’s Italian cooking and studying abroad, I have always looked to Italy for inspiration—whether it’s the rolling hills of Piedmont, the vineyards of Tuscany, or the coasts of Amalfi and Ancona. I cook American food through an Italian lens.
How have your travels influenced your cooking?
SC: I would never be the cook that I am if I didn’t travel. Opening myself up to various flavors, techniques, and ingredients has given me both culinary and life perspective.
I would never be the cook that I am if I didn’t travel.
What city is your favorite foodie destination anywhere and why?
SC: Hands down, it would have to be Tokyo, Japan. The food that I’ve eaten there, from local bars to 3-star Michelin restaurants, is exquisite and the reverence with which they cook across the spectrum is nothing short of flawless, in my opinion.
What are one or two of your favorite restaurants (not your own) and why?
SC: Jean-Georges in New York City for lunch is one of the most spectacular experiences the city has to offer. I also really enjoy China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The food is soulful, balanced and both the Chinese and Mexican aspects of the menu are equally authentic.
What was the most memorable meal of your life?
SC: While traveling through northern Italy in 1993, I stopped at a restaurant that one of my former chef’s mother owned. She cooked for us as we looked out at the Dolomites mountains. Years later, I can still remember the roasted pears with polenta and venison with juniper sauce. The dining experience with that view was absolutely magnificent.
What culinary tools do you always take with you when you travel?
SC: I always bring an apron, a tablespoon, and a large wooden spoon for making risotto and polenta. Since I travel so often, I avoid bringing knives or anything that requires checking baggage.
What else are your “must-takes” on trips, unrelated to the kitchen?
SC: My Bose headphones, an iPad, and a scarf or two.
Where would you like to travel that you haven’t been to before?
SC: I would love to go to the Maldives and charter a boat from there through the Indian Ocean and along the African coast.
Why did you leave the Manhattan restaurant scene where you had achieved such success?
SC: I felt that there were many other markets with incredible up and coming food scenes that I wanted to be a part of. For example, Phoenix has some of the best emerging Italian cuisines but not a lot of people know about that yet. While being successful in Manhattan is incredibly gratifying, I enjoy taking on new projects and challenges.
How have your television appearances affected your career?
SC: Being on television has helped broaden the range of people I cook for. It has served as a great marketing platform for my team and me to connect with people not only around the country but around the world.
If you hadn’t become a chef, what do you think you might be doing today?
SC: I knew by age 15 that I wanted to be a professional chef (although the original plan was to become a plumber). I also had aspirations to be a baseball player. To be honest, though, I can’t see myself doing anything else but cooking for others and making people happy.
Source: Thanks https://www.forbes.com/sites/irenelevine/2019/12/12/traveling-with-chef-scott-conant-cooking-with-an-italian-lens/