Scarpetta's Scott Conant Cooks a Mean Polenta for Miami Spice

Scott Conant has all the makings of a celebrity chef -- charm, good looks, award-winning restaurants, multiple cookbooks, and popular network shows. But this begs the question of whether Scarpetta's owner can work his magic in the kitchen and be held to the same standards as the contestants he judges weekly on Chopped and 24-Hour Restaurant Battle.

Short Order recently visited Scarpetta's kitchen, where a smiling Conant, pans ablaze and truffles in hand, was ready to make some creamy polenta with a fricassee of wild mushrooms. The dish is a signature at Scarpetta's Miami locale and is featured on the restaurant's Miami Spice menu, which Conant is finishing while in town.

Conant appreciates the importance of the Spice menu because, he says, "For many it's their first visit to my restaurant, so I want it to be a glimpse into what we offer," which is "soulful and rustic food that's presented in a refined way."

"I like to take an Italian commodity like polenta and elevate it," he says, stirring and sautéing the mushrooms into submission. The creamy polenta bubbles while the truffle aroma permeates the kitchen.

With four Scarpetta locations in the States and one in Canada, Conant is constantly on the road. "We strive for an ambiance that's friendly and welcoming but not familiar. It's fine dining but not pretentious." The Connecticut-born marketer is also working on a new Scarpetta cookbook as well as the expansion of his D.O.C.G. Enoteca concept. It is sure to be a busy autumn.

As we finish our polenta, we "fare la scarpetta" and mop the sauce from the plate with a piece of bread, hoping to get every last drop. If the polenta is any indication, Scarpetta is definitely worthy of its name.

Tomorrow, we'll share the recipe for Scarpetta's creamy polenta with fricassee of wild mushrooms.

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Christina Staalstrom