Celebrity chef and restauranteur, Scott Conant, has been feeding Miami diners with decadent bowls of iconic tomato and basil pasta for nearly a decade inside the beach’s most sought after resort and spa, Fontainebleau Miami Beach. And now, to ring in this ultimate milestone, Conant is inviting friends, family, and fans to a traditional Italian supper, to take a look back at his most coveted dishes and why they’ve become unbeatable specials.
Scott, tell us about celebrating Scarpetta’s 10-year anniversary at Fontainebleau Miami Beach.
SCOTT CONANT: I can’t believe it’s been 10 years already! I was in this place before they even started construction when it was the old Fontainebleau. I was one of the first people signed to do a restaurant here. So I watched the entire transition. I had an apartment here for 16 years. So I always spent time down here. And when I was asked to do the restaurant, it made perfect sense. The city has changed a lot, the Fontainebleau has not. That’s the one thing about being an iconic property, is that you have people that come in and they have gotten married here 60 years ago. It’s one of those iconic places that’s fun to be a part of. It’s great to see people come in year after year.
With restaurants all over the states, what inspired you to open one in Miami?
SC: It seemed like a natural transition. I had a restaurant in New York City—I have a Scarpetta there which I’m no longer affiliated with—so the natural transition was Miami. It's kind of like the sixth borough! It just made sense to do a restaurant here as well. And it worked, as far as identifying a team. We’ve been really fortunate to have some really great chefs here. Now, nationally recognized chefs have come out of the restaurant as well.
What can guests look forward to experiencing at this family style celebratory supper?
SC: The menu that we have is a prix fixe menu which is really affordable. Particularly for the experience. And it’s just these iconic dishes that I started the brand with like creamy polenta with fricassee of truffled mushrooms and spaghetti tomato basil. They’re still the best sellers on the menu, even after 10 years.
When did you first realize, you wanted to become a chef?
SC: I started cooking when I was 15. I’ll never forget when I walked into a kitchen for the first time. I was a dishwasher, working at a family friend’s restaurant. And I remember thinking, this energy is infectious. All these people working so hard towards a common goal of making somebody happy. More than anything else, it was that sense of team that really got me. I remember saying to my mom, "you know, I don’t know where this is going to take me, but I know this is the environment I want to be in forever."
Simultaneously, I went to a vocational school in Waterbury, Connecticut. And I couldn’t get into a plumbing class, so as a second choice, I did really well in culinary arts. So I said, let me stick with culinary arts. And it kind of stuck. I just really liked it.
What was the first dish you learned how to cook?
SC: It’s hard to say. But I also took my first cooking classes when I was 11, and I remember making an apple pie as a kid. It was kind of ugly, but it tasted good! That’s all that mattered.
Now a master chef, you focus primarily on crafting Italian food. Why Italian cuisine?
SC: My mother’s family is Italian, my mother’s first generation is Italian American. It made sense, but I never wanted to cook Italian food. I grew up with that traditional Italian-American style food that frankly never resonated with me. Chicken parm doesn’t move the needle for me. I wanted to be a culinarian. I loved the idea of fancy food. So, later when I started working with high-end Italian restaurants with high-end ingredients and making fresh pasta and shaving truffles, it was the simplicity of Italian food that really resonated with me. And that’s where my love of it came from.
I have to ask, how did you come up with the recipe for your beloved spaghetti tomato basil?
SC: It’s an iconic Italian dish. Spaghetti with tomato sauce. As a matter of fact, I just started a product line with the tomato sauce. We’re making it in Italy, per my recipe, jarring it, shipping it to the US, and putting a label on it here. It’s called Sprezza Pomodoro Sauce.
A frequent visitor to Miami, what are your favorite hot spots you love to dine at when outside of the kitchen?
SC: I don’t get out much, but I’m happy to learn! I love Bazaar and all things José Andrés. He’s amazing. Macchialina—Mike and I worked together for a million years or so. Macchialina’s awesome. I think the world of Mike Pirolo. I’m happy to see the success. I’ll stop by and see the Pubbelly guys, if I’m in town. It’s always good to see those guys. A lot of friends down here also! Andrew Carmellini and I worked together at San Domenico in 1992. I’ll stop at The Dutch to see the team and say hi.
An annual event host at South Beach Wine & Food Festival, what exclusive events can locals expect to engage this coming year?
SC: What I’m really excited about this year, is that we do a dinner every year here at Scarpetta and I’m doing it with Dean Fearing and Norman Van Aken, who are just icons—Godfathers of American food. They're two guys that I’ve always looked up to. They’ve always been guys I can look to as a younger chef coming up.
Continuing to put your name on the culinary map, what new ventures do you have planned for the future?
SC: So, my current restaurant venues. I have a place called Mora Italian in Phoenix and another restaurant in Las Vegas called Masso Osteria. I also have a place called The Ponte in Los Angeles and Cellaio Steak located in the Catskills, just outside of New York City. I’m looking at a few new venues and ventures. I’m doing another place in Scottsdale, Arizona, called Americano, which is going to be a play on a traditional Italian grill. I have a new sauce and product line that we started called Sprezza Foods, which I’m really excited about! Chopped was picked up for a few more seasons, so we’ll be shooting that starting in February. And I’m writing another book. So far the working title is Peace, Love, and Pasta.
A chef with an unwavering passion, what secret tips could you lend our young Miami chefs, eager to become the next you?
SC: Don’t be like me, be better. Success comes when you work hard and when you surround yourself with the right people. And I feel like those vulnerabilities that make you likable, sometimes it’s hard to lead with that and I think that it’s okay to lead with that.