Sure his last name may not end in a vowel, but one would be hard pressed to find a more passionate and influential modern Italian chef than Scott Conant. Italian on his mother’s side, this Connecticut-born, New York City-reared celeb chef has been exceeding the fare expectations of Manhattanites since the mid 90’s.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Conant interned at New York City’s San Domenico before crossing the pond for a stint as a pastry chef in one of Bavaria’s culinary bastions – the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich.
By the turn of the last millennium, Conant was being slathered with piping-hot praise and pilled high with accolades by the likes of the New York Times, Food and Wine and Gourmet magazine. Gourmet went so far as to exclaim that Conant “raises the roof on the Manhattan school of Italian cooking” (whoop whoop).
The first Scarpetta restaurant opened in New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood in 2008, and was named “one of the best new restaurants in America” by Esquire. With Scarpetta, Conant had a real culinary star whose recipe for success could be rolled out and enjoyed in multiple markets.
Conant opened a second Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami and, always ahead of the curve, ensured his thriving venture was established in Toronto’s brand-new Thompson Hotel - taking full advantage of that city’s exploding luxury hotel scene. Scarpetta continued to multiply, bubbling up in Beverly Hills and in Las Vegas, along with another venture D.O.C.G. Enoteca at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
A successful restaurateur for well over a decade, Conant has branched out by writing cookbooks and making TV appearances, hosting 24 Hour Restaurant Battle on the Food Network and acting as a guest judge on Bravo’s reality series Top Chef.
As the third entry in our series of interviews with Las Vegas celebrity chefs, we had the chance to put some questions toward the man behind the marinara:
1. What’s your full name? Scott Conant
2. How long have you been a chef? I've been cooking since I was 15, so I've been doing this for 25 years.
3. What’s your first ‘food’ memory? Watching my grandmother make pasta on a big wooden board that she always used for making pasta.
4. Where was your last big gig before Scarpetta and what was your role? Chef & Co-owner of Alto and L'Impero restaurants.
5. If you’re not dining at your establishment Scarpetta or DOCG - what would you recommend as the next best eatery on the Vegas strip? I love hanging out with my neighbors at STK. I'm also a fan o f L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand and chef David Walzog's SW Steakhouse at Wynn Las Vegas.
6. What’s the best dish you’ve ever tried? My mom's cavatelli with broccoli and garlic.
7. What’s the ultimate hangover meal in Vegas? Where can you find it, and why? When I used to stay at the Bellagio, I'd always call room service and order a burger with two fried eggs, lettuce, tomato, American cheese & bacon.
8. What do you consider the top 5 ingredients every top chef must keep stocked in their kitchen? Sea salt, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, chives, high quality Parmigiano-Reggiano & some crushed red pepper.
9. What would you deem the latest food trend in North America? One that I see a lot of, but that I won't partake in, is savory cupcake flavors such as lasagna, meatloaf or Sheppard’s pie.
10. If the world was invaded by aliens and you were forced to choose your last meal on Earth – What would it be? A great spaghetti all'aglio.
11. Do you have any food heroes you look up to? My grandmother.
12. What are your food hang-ups? (Ie: Things people do, preparing items incorrectly, etc) Poorly cooked pasta and chefs who aren't thoughtful with food.
13. If you could choose any four dining companions in the world (besides your family), who would they be and why? The Dalai Lama, Bob Dylan, Yogi Berra and Don Rickles
14. Do you have any expert advice for someone that wants to follow a culinary career in the Las Vegas region? Yes, I do. I'd say that you need to work on your work ethic first before coming to this city. Don't be lazy. Work ethic is the biggest thing and when you have a good one, you'll propel yourself forward.
When in Vegas make sure to check out either one of Scott’s modern Italian eateries at the Cosmopolitan: Scarpetta or D.O.C.G
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Located: Toronto Canada