Extended Q&A with Chef Scott Conant

Leah LeMoineJuly 13, 2021
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Photo by Camerawerks

 

Can’t get enough of our Great 48 honoree chef Scott Conant? Neither can we! Here’s an extended cut of our interview for that feature, for your chef-crushing pleasure.   

We are so excited you’re up for being featured as one of our Great 48. It’s our way to highlight interesting people in the Valley, and after watching you on Food Network for years, I was so excited for you to be part of the Valley. Can you tell me about how that came to be?
Well, first of all, thank you. I’m flattered. It’s always nice to be thought of, so thank you. Thank you. We moved here about five years ago, after 27 years in New York City. I woke up one day and I said, “I need to appreciate life more. I need a little bit more time for me and a little bit less time just working nonstop.” I always say that people never live in New York City for the lifestyle, right? You live in New York because you want to get ahead, you have ambitions, or whatever the case may be.  

I had some really close friends, like family, out here. It just made sense to come out and really appreciate life a little bit more. Yes, I have businesses here [Mora Italian and The Americano]. I’m not retiring. I did promise myself when I moved here that I would golf twice a week. I think I’ve been out five times in the past five years. I realized that really, I’m not so good at the game.[laughs] and I don’t like it that much, anyway. It was a great realization. I think all in all, it was a great opportunity to put myself and my family in a situation where we’re just appreciating life.   

How have you adjusted? The East Coast has such a different mentality. It’s so hustle-hustle, and here we’re a lot more laid-back and casual. How has that been for you and your family to adjust to?
For me, it’s been great. My wife had a little bit of a hard time the first year. I’ll never forget after the first week or so that we were here. She’s a Brooklyn girl, born and raised, my wife, and she came to me and she’s like, “Why is everybody so nice? Like, what’s the agenda?” Which I thought was great. Sometimes people are just nice, you know?  

I’m pretty laid-back and I think that it’s been such a great transition. I’m not exaggerating at all when I tell you that I feel like it saved my life. I’ve lost weight since I moved here, my blood pressure is down. I’m healthier, I live a healthier lifestyle. I quit drinking since I moved here. Those 18-hour days that I would have in New York City where everything ended in a meeting at a bar or a restaurant, I don’t have that here. So I feel really blessed. 

 It’s a different culture, and also different scenery. Are you liking the lack of snow, or have you adjusted to our hellish summers?
The summers are tough, I’ll tell ya… It’s just like the winters on the East Coast and the Northeast. I used to swim a lot as a kid, so I took up swimming again. I really like being in a pool in this weather. I could work on my tan and get some exercise simultaneously, so you know, I try to make it work to my advantage.  

Can you talk a bit about your businesses here? You made such a splash with Mora, and then you’ve recently taken over The Americano as well.
Obviously, this has been a crazy year in particular, so it was a great time to kind of re-look at everything – focus on what’s worked, expand the things that have worked, cut out some of the things that haven’t worked. It’s been an interesting time, but I’ll tell you the intention with The Americano was just to get a little snippet of that New York style of restaurant. And it’s worked out really, really well. Mora just reopened after most of the year having been closed from the pandemic. We’re still getting our sea legs, but it’s going great. A lot of happy customers, a lot of happy people. I have great business partners and a great team that that runs the restaurants on the day to day. It allows me to do all the other things that I do as well. 

 To that end, is Scottsdale your home base now, or are you kind of still bicoastal?
Scottsdale is my home base. My team is all over the country. My assistant is in Breckenridge. My marketing team is in Brooklyn. My corporate chef is in Manhattan. My director of operations is in Boston. My CFO is in New Jersey. We’re spread out all over the place. Fortunately, these days it works, so we can always get on a plane if and when it’s needed. 

I’m traveling a lot, but for me, when I come home it’s really like I’m coming home to a resort. It’s automatic – instead of getting tensed up, like I would in New York City, I’m kind of relaxing as I’m going home. That mental health, that physical health, it’s done wonders for me personally. 

 I’m a very enthusiastic home cook, so I love getting inspired by your home cooking on Instagram. Obviously restaurants are amazing, but home cooking is what we all do every day, so I’ve loved seeing that side of you.
It’s funny you say that because it’s really been a big thing for me lately, that difference between home cooking and cooking in restaurants. It’s a completely different mindset. I like to take some of the organizational processes from the restaurants into the home, even though it’s home cooking. In the past year, what I’ve been working on is my next cookbook, which comes out in September. It’s called Peace, Love and Pasta. It’s just food that I cook for my family. My wife is Turkish, so there’s a little bit of a Turkish chapter of some of the stuff that we cook at home. Obviously, there’s a big pasta section. There’s a lot of food that I cook for my kids. There’s some, you know, kind of large-format, entertainment-style things as well, but it’s really all done from a home perspective. I tested every single recipe at home myself during quarantine. It was a great time to write a book. 

 What about plans for the future here? Do you see expanding more in the Valley, or maybe elsewhere in Arizona or anywhere else on the West Coast? I know you’ve been in Vegas before.
I’ve been in Los Angeles before a couple times. I’ve been in Vegas a few times. I would love to expand more. There’s something about this West Coast living that I really like, but I feel like if you do too much work inside of it, you’re really losing that spirit of that West Coast life. So I don’t want to kill myself, but I’m ambitious to a fault. I’m never gonna say no. That’s my problem. 

It’s good that you’ve been able to build up teams of people you trust. That’s so crucial in any business, but particularly in restaurants, which have high turnover.
I really am truly blessed with the people I have around me. I will say that every chance that I get. The team at The Americano, the team at Mora and the team that I have, as I said, around the country, it allows me to live the life that I’m living. More importantly, it allows me to feed the customers the food that I want them to eat, you know what I mean? It’s a blessing. It really is. 

How would you characterize the restaurant scene here in the Valley? Where it is now, where you see it going? Have you been able to interact with a lot of restaurateurs here or have you been too busy getting your own stuff going?
I’ve met a lot of the restaurateurs here in town – most of them, most of the chefs. It’s an expanding scene. Just in the five years that I’ve been here, it’s incredible how much it’s changed. I just look at the success of someone like Sam Fox – that’s not an Arizona success, that is an international success, what he’s achieved. It’s just inspiring. I love being inspired by my peers.  

What about you? When you’re going out to dinner, maybe taking your wife for a date, which restaurant would you go to? Where do you guys like to go? Any local haunts?
I love Binkley’s. I’m dying to try Wrigley Mansion, and I’d love to see what chef [Christopher] Gross is doing there. I’m a big fan of his for years. Beau Mac [MacMillan] is a great friend. I love his food, I love what he does in general. He’s just a great person at [elements at] Sanctuary. The list goes on and on. Chris Bianco [Pizzeria BiancoTratto] is such a mensch. And Alex Stratta just opened up Campo [Italian Bistro and Bar], which I’m dying to see what he’s doing [there]. He’s a world-class chef in this market, so I’m always happy to see this evolution of chefs in their careers. I’ve been inspired by Alex. He’s a really good friend for years also. 

Andreoli [Italian Grocer] also – I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Giovanni [Scorzo]. That’s my favorite Italian restaurant in the country, Andreoli. I love it. I can’t go there because I eat too much, but I talk about him every chance I get. Everybody who comes to Scottsdale, I always tell them, “You have to go to Andreoli,” because it’s spectacular.  

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