Scott Conant of Scarpetta Talks Food, SoBe Food Fest

Scott Conant is the charming and handsome executive chef and owner of Scarpetta in New York, Miami Beach (at the Fontainebleau), Toronto, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Conant and his restaurants have won almost every distinction imaginable, including a James Beard award for his restaurant L'Impero and rave reviews from The New York Times and Miami New Times, among others.

Frequently seen on television, Scott has appeared on The Martha Stewart Show, Top Chef, Chopped, and is the host of 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. Scott will be at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. We chatted with him as he walked the streets of New York, preparing for a move, a trip to Miami and a day at Scarpetta.

New Times: You opened Scarpetta in Miami Beach at the Fontainebleau. Were you approached or did you scout out Miami Beach as a venue?

Scott Conant: I have a place in South Beach. I've had a place down here for 8 years. Having an apartment there, it made sense to open a restaurant because it was a natural extension. As far as marketing and branding go, there are so many new Yorkers that go to Miami.

Does each Scarpetta have the same menu at each location?

No. The idea is that the menu in each market should reflect the local ingredients. In Toronto, there's a little more game on the menu and more root vegetables. In Miami, there's more fish - a more Mediterranean Italian approach, rather than a rustic approach, a lot of southern Italian touches. In Los Angeles, for example, we have a lot of farm to table dishes, in the sense that there's a lot of great farms. It just makes sense to have those fresh but elegant food products. It's something I try to do at all my restaurants.

What does someone simply have to try at your restaurants?

Here's the thing. I get a lot of press about the pasta that we do. It's a cut above. The spaghetti with tomato basil is amazing. Alton Brown named it as one of the ten best comfort foods in America. The yellowtail is spectacular and we make a creamy polenta with truffled mushrooms. There's an unctuous to the polenta and there an earthiness to the truffles.

Are you sticking with Italian cuisine or do you see yourself branching out into other regions of cooking?

My favorite cuisine to eat is Japanese. It's what I would eat every day if I could, but I can't see myself cooking anything other than Italian. The range of cooking in Italy is so vast, I can really explore the region and stay busy.

You've hosted and appeared on several television shows including Top Chef, 24 Hour Restaurant Battle and Chopped. Do you like being a celebrity chef?

I do like TV. I think it's a great advertising platform for the restaurant. I have six restaurants and somebody has to talk about them. The exposure is wonderful. My secret ambition is to create great restaurants. I have no intention of being a celebrity chef. I'm a chef. I own restaurants.

Are there any food trends that we should be looking out for?

If I had that power I'd be so rich we wouldn't be talking right now. "Trend" isn't my thing. Trends don't work for me. I prefer long lasting appreciation.

Scott, when are you coming down for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival?

I arrive on Wednesday. It's actually 60 degrees in New York now. I wish I could come down sooner. I'm moving apartments in New York. If I left my wife to do the moving, we'd need a larger apartment.

What events are you doing at The South Beach Wine & Food Festival?

I have a few things that I'm doing. I have an event, The Best of the Best on Saturday night. I also have a panel discussion with Ben Leventhal about branding and not losing sight of what's important to you. That's also Saturday at the Grand Tasting Village. I feel like that's enough. And of course, spending time in the restaurant.

What are your insider tips for navigating the South Beach Wine & Food Festival?

It is overwhelming because there's so much going on. There's a vortex of energy. That being said, I think you should start with going to the tents. If you walk into the tents, you're guaranteed to bump into a Food Network star. As for the parties, I think Bubble Q is spectacular. I love The Best of The Best at the Fontainebleau. It's become something special over the year. You see so many restaurants doing what they're good at. And you absolutely have to get an invite to the after parties. That's where the real fun starts.

So you plan on partying all weekend?

I plan on sleeping. The good thing about this weekend is that for chefs we don't get to see each other all the time. We get to hang out and meet other chefs. I hang out with Marcus Samuelsson because he's really cool and that makes me feel cool.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss