Some people know what they want to be when they grow up from a very young age and Scott Conant just happens to be one of those lucky souls. Over the years, through plenty of hard work and dedication, Conant has earned worldwide recognition and awards for being an outstanding chef, but he's not a one-trick pony by any means. Scott has also received various awards for being a successful restaurateur, he's a regular around the Food Network, and is the author of some fabulous cookbooks, with another new one coming out in October.
This Sunday, April 21st on the Food Network, he'll be taking part in the Chopped All-Stars "Chopped Judges" competition. And while Conant's role is always critiquing the food, this time he'll be facing off as a competitor against his fellow judges to win $50,000 to be donated toward his charity of choice, Keep Memory Alive. Before the showdown goes down, we talked to Scott about how it feels to be on the other side of the table, how nerve-racking it is to battle your friends, and to find out why we don't have a Scarpetta here in Orange County.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): As we all know, those mystery baskets on Chopped are a real crap shoot. What is the grossest thing you've ever eaten on the show?
Scott Conant: It was the "viewers' choice basket." I have to be honest, I really thought that people liked the show, but it wasn't very nice for us. [Laughs.] This stuff had chicken in a can and durian in it. And that was a kicker. I love when people are like, "well if you can get past the smell of durian, it's actually really good." No. I disagree 100%. The only positive attribute of durian is the texture but I just find it impossible to eat.
That's funny because I actually read that you hate durian so someone must have had you in mind with that one.
Yeah. I always say that food has been so good to me and it has allowed me the life that I have, so I hate to attribute the word "hate" to anything when it comes to food. I mean, we live on this stuff. It's like saying, I hate oxygen. And I'm a relatively open mined individual I like to think, but durian? I can't. I just can't. It just doesn't make any sense. [Laughs.]
I've never tried it but after that glowing review, I doubt I ever will. Going into "Chopped Judges," who did you think was going to be your biggest competition?
Well I know all of the chefs really well because they're my fellow judges and we're all really good friends. We were fortunate enough to come together and do this for the charities that we were competing for, so we wanted to have fun within the confines of that. But you know as well as I do, when it's a competition, you love your friends but you still want to come out on top! [Laughs.] I really thought going into it Alex was going to be the toughest, especially since she just competed on The Next Iron Chef. I was really nervous but I had an absolute blast with it. Even though I have a bunch of awards, I still really felt like I had something to prove. I just tried not to embarrass myself. We'll see how it comes out.
And your boys Geoffrey Zakarian, Aarón Sánchez, and Marcus Samuelsson were on the panel. Break down their judging styles…
Well Geoffrey is really hard especially when it comes to me. Over the years he's become one of my closest friends, however, a lot of that relationship is based on nudging each other a little bit. A lot of times, it's kind of making fun of one another. [Laughs.] I also know that Geoffrey appreciates good food so if he likes something, there is no greater way to earn his respect than to just do a good job. Aarón is the nicest guy in the world, but he can still be extremely critical if things don't work out. Marcus holds everyone to very high standards, he holds everyone to his standards and those are very high. So I think all three were difficult, but I think I had to make Geoffrey in particular see that it was all from the heart.
Did being on the other side of the table give you a whole new outlook on the game?
You know, it's an incredibly difficult competition first and foremost. I compete for a living in a very different way, so it's not like my heart doesn't go out, but the dark horse is the baskets. The clock and the baskets are really super difficult. You almost have to think about the judges as an afterthought because it almost becomes an issue of survival. I wouldn't necessarily say I look at the game differently, but I definitely walked away with a little bit of a better understanding. Although when I'm a judge, I'm still myself.
Well I'm rooting for you. I'm also rooting for you to open your sixth restaurant location of Scarpetta in Orange County.
One thing at a time! Although I love the OC, it's gorgeous down there. I just stayed at the Montage in Laguna a couple of months ago and it was just absolutely stunning. It's a nice life.
Oh for sure. We even have a Housewives of Orange County TV show, so don't count us out!
I heard about that. I even met one of them once! I don't know which one it was but one of them came up to me at an event. If I ever had any plans of moving to Orange County, the three minute conversation I had with that woman turned me off of it. [Laughs.]
Make sure you tune in to watch Scott Conant battle Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag, and Marc Murphy on the Chopped All-Stars "Chopped Judges" competition, Sunday April 21st on the Food Network. For more information on Scott's charity, please check out their website www.KeepMemoryAlive.org. You can also follow Scott on Twitter @ConantNYC and find recipes and pick up his books through his website www.ScottConant.com.