After three seasons as a guest judge on Top Chef and six seasons as a judge on Chopped, Chef Scott Conant’s visage and gregarious wit is almost as recognizable as his signature Spaghetti. In fact, it was that spaghetti and other rustic Italian dishes that made his first restaurant, Scarpetta in New York City, a popular and critical culinary darling that multiplied to four locations, including Miami Beach’s Fontainbelau, Los Angeles and Las Vegas (although he is no longer involved in the New York location). Add Vegas’ D.O.C.G. Enoteca, and three cookbooks into the mix and it would seem as he is the American king of Italian cuisine. His latest restaurant, Corsair by Scott Conant, ventures into new territory. Not only because it is located at Turnberry Isle in Aventura, but also for its focus on American and Mediterranean cuisine in favor of straight-up Italian fare.
HL: I am a huge fan of your famous Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce. What makes it so special?
SC: It’s the great balance of flavors. There is a good acidity level, and a little backdrop of sweetness and creaminess from the butter and the Parmesan cheese that we put inside. The textures are good and the fresh basil is a nice pop that’s both interesting and belongs there. You can get the recipe in The Scarpetta Cookbook.
HL: Corsair is your first restaurant you’ve opened that’s not Italian.
SC: The menu is kind of “elevated farmhouse food” with American and Mediterranean dishes. There’s a lot of Spanish and French on the menu. I have a home in Turkey, and my wife is Turkish, so there’s a little bit of Turkish influence too.
HL: Some chefs in the past have said the cooking on shows like Top Chef and Chopped isn’t real. What do you say to that?
SC: If the show didn’t have integrity I would never do it. True, it’s a game show, and ultimately you’re trying to cook against the clock with ingredients that probably don’t belong together, but technique is technique and developing flavors is developing flavors. There’s a way do it right and sometimes there’s a way to do it wrong.
HL: You’ve always been a judge on those shows, but have you learned anything from these junior chefs?
SC: There’s always something to learn—even from someone else’s mistakes. Just because I’m teaching it doesn’t mean that I can’t also learn. That’s the give and take. I don’t [really] have any interest in being on television, but I like teaching.. and having a marketing and advertising platform for my businesses.
HL: What’s the most important thing in a kitchen?
SC: Teamwork, comradery, and respect for each other. The dishwasher is probably the most important person in the kitchen because everything revolves around that person getting their job done. If you don’t believe that person is the most important, try to do without them and see how that goes.