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Interview With Chef Scott Conant at 2011 South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Chef Scott Conant: He's Even More Charming in Person

The 10th annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival wasn't just an opportunity to catch Rachael Ray cooking in person and chow down on exotic ingredients. It was also a great time to get to know our favorite chefs firsthand.

I was floored by restaurateur and Food Network chef Scott Conant. Not only is the Chopped judge and host of 24 Hour Restaurant Battle a wisecracking barrel of laughs, but he's also incredibly humble.

When I declared his polenta to be "the best polenta I've ever had," he quipped, "Then you need to eat out more." At the Scarpetta Miami bar, he made sure we were settled in with mojitos, then joined us for a chat. For the whole conversation, keep reading.

YumSugar: We love the Scarpetta here. Do you have plans to open any other Scarpettas anywhere else?
Scott Conant: Not in the country; no more Scarpettas in the US. One day I would love to entertain the thought of opening something international.
YS: Would you ever consider opening a Scarpetta in Italy?
SC: I would love to! I think a Scarpetta in Rome would work really well. What do you think about that?
YS: I think that would be amazing.
SC: It would be really convenient, because then I could have so many Italian cooks in the restaurants. It would work really well.
YS: Speaking of which, what upcoming project are you most excited about?
SC: I have two books currently; I'm in the process of doing my third. I just finished my second season of 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, which I'm super excited about. Chopped was just picked up for three more seasons. We're shooting pretty soon. The big thing on my plate is that I'm starting an office in New York City. I just took 4,000 square feet on the ninth floor of a building in SoHo. I'm building a kitchen where I can do some events off the premise private events. I'll call it the SCM Hospitality Suite — that's the name of my company. It's also a development kitchen. We can test recipes, we can make all the set recipes for the books, I can do photo shoots there, I can do video for, uh . . .
YS: For YumSugar?
SC: Video for YumSugar! I can do all sorts of things there.
YS: Where do you eat in New York when you aren't at Scarpetta?
SC: I love Eleven Madison Park. It's one of my favorite restaurants. I really, really like Aldea, with George Mendes. Spectacular. There's so many good restaurants. I went to Torrisi the other day. These guys are just cooking good food. There's a very humble approach.
YS: Who's your biggest Italian competition?
SC: I think that the range of Italy is so vast and so big. It's a big space to live in. I don't see it as a lot of competition. It's just a big pool. Good [answer], right?
YS: What's your advice for people who love food, but claim they don't have time to cook?
SC: If you want to cook at home, cook at home. If you don't want to cook at home, that's why there's restaurants. You're not gonna get a complaint from me; I need those people! My tip if you don't like to cook at home would be: make reservations!
YS: Is there any culinary trend that you've tired of?
SC: It's probably the cupcake thing. I just don't get it. And now cupcakes are taking on a savory thing. Whatever, it's all good.
YS: What's the most important cooking tip you've ever learned?
SC: For me, seasoning — salting — the water properly for pasta. I do it like the way my mother taught it: season it like it's a broth. Some people season it like it's the ocean; I think that's too salty.
YS: Tell us your guilty pleasure food.
SC: Reduced-fat Extra Chunky Skippy Peanut Butter. They cut down on the fat but I think they add more sugar.
YS: How do you navigate through Burger Bash? What's your strategy?
SC: I hate to say this, but I've never been to Burger Bash. I have work to do, ladies! This isn't a party time for Scotty. I'm not at that point in my career yet!

Image Source: WireImage
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