Q & A with Scott Conant
Best known for his mastery of Italian cooking, Scott Conant auspiciously implemented worthy menus at both L’Impero & Alto. But after his recent split from partner Chris Cannon, he bid adieu to both kitchens and ventured off on his own. Thankfully, he’s resurfaced at retired Conde Nast CEO Steve Florio and partner Larry Baum’s casual Sag Harbor trattoria, Tutto Il Giorno, where beachgoers are already flocking for his signature truffle-crowned polenta & branzino tartare. But that seems just the beginning for the ambitious young chef, who manages to finesse the most sublime flavors out of the simplest ingredients. He’s also launched his own cookware line and made his Home Shopping Network debut. Showing no signs of slowing down, Conant’s even got an imminent NYC restaurant up his sleeve.
Soon to be married…In September, my fiancée Meltem and I will have a ceremony in beautiful Bodrum, Turkey (she is Turkish, by way of Brooklyn). We’re both looking forward to it. We’ve known each other for many years and have been together for the last 2 and a half. She has made an honest man of me.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I started cooking at 11 years old in a community class. It was love at first bite… (Sorry for the bad pun). So as soon as I realized I was good at something besides baseball, I started to cook all the time. I just jumped headfirst into it. At 15, I was working 60 hours a week and going to school at the same time. It was a revelation for me. Cooking and working like that was a truly wonderful ending to childhood and transition to young adulthood.
How did you get into food?
I grew up with food. My father was raised on a farm in Maine, and my mother is first generation Italian American. My mother’s father was very into fresh product. I remember his garden in Waterbury, CT. It was full of basil and fennel and zucchini blossoms and fiddlehead ferns in season, pumpkins and potatoes and cauliflower, fresh barlotti beans and string beans, rosemary and just great scents and flavors. Whenever I smell basil, I still think of him. Lupo was his name, he had a real bounty coming from his backyard…the tomatoes being canned at the end of the season. In a lot of ways that is a lost love. People don’t know seasons anymore. There is a lost inspiration and lost honesty in the home now. Back then, you never knew what was for dinner until you looked at what was ripe and beautiful in that big beautiful garden. It was FOOD, not food products.
What was your first job in food?
I was in the kitchen at a family friend’s restaurant in Waterbury, CT. I was a dishwasher and prep cook. It was the worst kitchen that I ever worked in. It was so dirty that I had to leave all my clothes outside of my house when I got home at night. It’s a wonder I stuck with it in hindsight. But the people were wonderful and I was exposed to a life much different than any I had seen before….
There’s a lot of speculation surrounding your recent split from partner Chris Cannon? What was the real impetus?
The real reason is that sometimes people come to a point that things need to change. Chris and I are still friends and he knows that I wish him all the best in the world. My intention upon leaving was to make sure that the kitchens were going to run at a high level upon my departure. I did that and he was good with it. In the end, I decided to start a new company. That is pretty much it. Unfortunately, the truth in this instance doesn’t make for a great story.
You ended up parting with both L’Impero & Alto? That must’ve been difficult, no?
It was difficult to leave them. After all the vision for those restaurants was mine and the food elements were unique to me. I left staff that is like family to me. But I am sure that it will become clear to people in due time why I made that decision. I am very very excited to be sitting where I am at this point of my career. My plans for the future are very focused and I have all the right people in my life now….both professionally and personally. I have very high expectations of myself and my vision. I can’t even tell you how freeing it is to be able to create the life that you want for yourself.
An unlikely next move, how did you end up consulting in Sag Harbor of all places?
Steve Florio and I are friends and he needed a chef out there. He tried to convince me to do it, but I told him that I would help him out. In the end, I just ended up loving the place and tried to fill all the holes that were needed. I have a blast there. All my best and oldest clients from the city are there every weekend. I am not sure what to liken the experience to, but its great, all good people in a great place having good food.
What’s your favorite dish on Tutto Il Giorno’s menu?
Okay, my favorite dish has to be the fritto misto. It is honest and flavorful; different but still familiar. It’s a great expression of my overall goal for the food. Also, the tomato salad with burrata is just plain good.
What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
Any dish that doesn’t come out correctly during the busy times…. 😉
What are your favorite three restaurant go-to’s in NYC?
I always say that I love all things Daniel. I just went to Café Boulud the other night for my fiancées birthday it was wonderful. I love great BBQ (Daisy May’s and Blue Smoke I am looking forward to the new BBQ spot “Hill Country”) and I have to get a monthly dose of great sushi at Tsushima on 47th between Lexington and Third. Great!
Will you be joining us back in NYC in the near future?
I will! And it is going to be spectacular!
Rumor has it there’s a cookware line with your name on it. Do tell…
Yes…it is a non-stick stainless cookware line, as well as appliances and housewares. It is called “Scott Conant’s Signature Creations”. I went with HALO non-stick coating that’s a new technology in the non-stick market. I am very excited about bringing great cookware to people at home. The Home Shopping Network has been a great partner for me to work in a television environment while providing clients with tools and recipes that will ultimately make their lives easier and their food better and healthier. There are so many features and tweaks and touches with the design that if I were to go through them all individually it would take up this whole page. It is very cool. And I am super excited about it.
What’s the inspiration behind your newest book, Bold Italian?
There is a mindset with Italian food, that when people eat it when it is good, they grab a piece of bread and sop up what’s on the plate. The word for that act in Italian is Scarpetta. My intention for my restaurants and the recipes in the book and anything in life is to create that level of soul and goodness…so good that you want to grab a piece of bread and make a Scarpetta. All the recipes for the new book are meant to invoke that same emotion.
What’s next on the horizon for you? Any new ventures or restaurants in the works? Spill the beans…
I’m looking into Miami and New York as well as a couple of overseas projects. There are some really exciting opportunities for me at the moment: I just shot a tv show pilot and we’ll see where that takes us and a few other things that are “on the back burner” so to speak. So far, it’s all looking better than I had ever imagined for myself.
Until we eat again,
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I purchased a 16pc set of your cookware. This is the best cookware I have ever owned and would really like some additional pieces but have been unable to find. It appears that it is no longer being sold on HSN, is it being sold anywhere else?