Global Food Trends
One of New York’s most beloved and respected chefs, Scott Conant brings a deft touch and unwavering passion to creating food that is unexpected and soulful. This year marks his return to the culinary scene with the opening of Scarpetta in New York City’s Meatpacking District and Miami’s Fontainebleau resort.
Question: How dangerous is the world food shortage?
Scott Conant: I think it’s pretty scary. I mean, I’ve- but you know it’s a- I don’t have a lot that- you know, it- it’s all- it all sounds pretty political at the end of the day; and without getting political and all that kind of stuff, it- it just-- I think the big unfortunate thing is, is that as soon as it starts to hit home and it starts to affect us, then there seems to be a- an effect, you know; then there seems to be a reaction that there’s outrage. But is- if you look around the world, this is- this is normal for a lot of people. This is actually-- it’s surprising that it’s even a surprise to people. It’s shocking that it’s a shock. It’s shocking to me that nobody takes responsibility for- for, you know, a world that’s somewhat in chaos right now and has been for a number of years. This is- none- none of this is new. So that being said and without getting all, you know, dreary and stuff, it’s been around for a long time, and I think we all have a responsibility, you know.
Question: Will it impact your restaurants?
Scott Conant: I- you know, I’m sure it’s a matter of time that it will. You know, I think, like everything else, hopefully we’ll get through it when it- when it does happen. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I’m sure it will. And all we could do is- is kind of, you know, put our heads down and- and hanker down, so to speak, and- and do what we have to do to get- to get through it, yeah.
Question: Do food and politics mix?
Scott Conant: I <laugh> don’t think we have a choice in the matter now, do we? These <laugh> laws are getting passed and- and- and people are being effected, and- and, you know, eventually, I think, you know, it’s a matter of time before- before foie gras is just out- outright banned. But you know this is- it’s-- call it what you will. I mean, some people would say it’s resp- it’s irresponsible to do it in the first place; others would say it’s responsible to ban it, you knsow. In all that being said, trans fats-
- I mean the effect that it has on- on-- is all politics and it’s a matter of- of, you know, standpoint, I guess, and all this- all this is a- it’s a little beyond me. I’m just a simple cook opening a restaurant in the East Village <laugh>.
Question: Did you support the ban on trans fats?
Scott Conant: I don’t really eat foods that are cooked in trans fats anyway, so it doesn’t have an effect on me at all; but I understand how a lot of people-- you know, a lot of people need to live by fast-food restaurants. I mean, it’s sometimes the only food that they can afford. So I would like to think in a perfect world that there- that the fast-food restaurants would take the responsibility to serve the foods a little bit healthier without the government having- having to get involved. Unfortunately, it’s just not the world we live in, and I’m not gonna- you know, I’m not gonna be the boy that cried trans fats. But <laugh> I- I will say that, you know, sometimes- desperate times call for desperate measures, obviously.
Question: Has the organic food movement changed your life?
Scott Conant: You know, I- I happen to- I happen to like it, and I really think about it, and it- it-- I think it’s a matter of evolution, and evolution takes time. And the way I think about, you know, eventually going into maybe a fine-dining restaurant one day, it becomes the opportunity to kind of- to s- to reign yourself in completely and take a fine-dining approach outside of the casual restaurant and things like that. But a fine-dining approach by reigning yourself in and doing-- you know, Dan Barber, I think, does it very well; even Michael Anthony does it very well, and
there’s a lot of chefs that do, and I’m- of course I’m not gonna go through the whole list, but those are the two that really come to mind-- that, you know, cook from the land-- the simplicity and the beauty of the product. You know, to listen to Dan Barber speak about these things and his- his eloquence with it, it’s-- I mean, it’s like- it’s great. So he’s the guy you gotta ask, not me <laugh>.
Question: Do you support small, local farmers?
Scott Conant: I do, absolutely. I mean, my- my grandfather lost his farm when my father was- was young. So there’s always that- you know, it- it’s in the back of my head, and I still have family up in- up in the north of Maine that live- that are farmers. It’s- you know, you do what you can within the confines of your business, and, you know, things being what they are and- and, you know, the economics of a restaurant being what it is, sometimes it’s unfortunate that you can’t-- you know the difference between an organic egg and a commercial egg-- now, you look at the way a commercial egg is raised, and you look at the way a- an organic egg is raised. You know, unfortunately it costs more than three times- the organic egg cost more than three time the commercially-raised egg. So the economics of a restaurant being what it is and, you know, occupancy cost of restaurants in New York City being what they are, there’s only so much you could do sometimes without, you know-- customers are still price-sensitive and savvy, for that matter, obviously in New York city. So you do what you can, you know; you wanna be responsible. I never wanna be irresponsible. And hopefully what that means is that it’s something that I can grow into more and more over time, back to the evolution of it.
Question: Is sustainable agriculture realistic?
Scott Conant: You know, <laugh> I- I think that there’s- where there’s a will there’s a way, you know. It- it seems to me that there’s so much infrastructure with- with commercial farming and commercial food products that it’s easy-- that’s an easy cop-out, right? But if we put ourselves on a path to kind of get to that point, you know, maybe- it may take time, but eventually we’ll get to the point where it is feasible, right.
Question: How should we tackle obesity?
Scott Conant: I guess it’s all about restraint, isn’t it? Me, fat-- <laugh> maybe that last three bowls of ice cream I shouldn’t have had. I wasn’t that fat as a kid, but, you know, I mean there’s- there’s-- you know, I- I was also a big baseball player and all that kind of things, and- and I think- you know, with the- with the-- you know, it’s- it’s- it’s always a concern, right? You want your children to be active; you- you don’t want them to sit in front of a TV and playing video games. I don’t have kids so it’s easy for me to- to-- it’s very easy for as a non-parent to say this is what kids should do. I’m not gonna play that game for you <laugh> ‘cause every parent in the world would tell me what an ass I am <laugh>.
Recorded on: 03/24/2008
We all have a responsibility to solve the problem of the food shortage.