Scott Conant is one of New York’s hottest chefs —Crain’s has even called him a “matinee idol.” He’s also one of New York’s busiest restaurateurs. Conant runs Scarpetta restaurants in Manhattan and Miami, and just two months ago opened Faustina in the Cooper Square Hotel, taking over the space vacated by Govind Armstrong’s ill-fated Table 8. A third Scarpetta is due to open in Toronto in May. amNewYork caught up with Conant during some rare downtime.
Table 8 was a flop. Any thoughts that perhaps the space may have bad Juju?
Of course there was some trepidation, but my management team and I are very familiar with the New York market. I don’t pretend that it’s easy because it's not. In this business, you are under close scrutiny and meant to achieve greatness. I pursue greatness, so hopefully I will get there.
How would you like your customers to distinguish Faustina from Scarpetta?
The two restaurants couldn’t be more different. The only common thread is that I am the same chef and if I make two different dishes, hopefully you’ll be able to sense the same soul in the different dishes. At Scarpetta, I want people to feel comfortable enough to rip off a piece of bread and use it to scoop up the sauce. I still want people to feel comfortable at Faustina, but it's a different concept. The decor has a lot of feminine touches, and there is a sense of invitation as well as an inherent elegance. You can come in with a group and have a multiple-course meal or order a bunch of things to share.
As a chef who consistently garners good reviews, what do you think is the secret to success in the restaurant world?
I am not sure that I always get good reviews. The goal is to make people happy and hopefully, people are a little happier when they leave than when they arrived. I try to focus on the simplicity and goodness of the product and also to create a balance between the service, décor and food. I think when people see thoughtful food presentations; it makes them happy.
You were in Eater.com’s sexiest chef contest. How do you feel about all the media?
I always try to have a presence in the kitchen of each of my restaurants because I don't want the food to suffer, but I also think it's important to show face time in the dining room and greet guests. It's all about finding a balance between the two.
You must get a lot of celebrities in for dinner. Is there anyone you’d like to invite that hasn’t been in?
The only one that hasn’t been in is (President Barack) Obama.
What would you cook for him?
Anything he wants.
What is the most important ingredient to a successful meal?
The love - it's important to taste that in the food. And, of course, a little salt.
Not a big fan of the salt-reduction proposal?
Politicians have a lot to tackle; they should stay away from salt.
What is your favorite restaurant in New York?
I love fancy restaurants. I had a great meal at Eleven Madison Park last week. I love lunch at Jean-Georges and I'd go to Café Boulud for dinner anytime.
What would you be if you weren’t a chef?
I’d be very unhappy and miserable.
Scott’s Faustina recommendations:
Slow-Roasted Escolar & saba - $12
The Cooper Square Burger, taleggio, caramelized onions, pickled mustard
seeds - $19
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