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August 21, 2014

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Q+A: Chef Scott Conant says he is not as mean as he appears on ‘Chopped’

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Brent Herrig

Chef, author, restaurateur and TV personality Scott Conant.

Scott Conant Wins 'Chopped All-Stars'

Scott Conant competes on, and wins, The Food Network's Season 14 of Launch slideshow »
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Chef Scott Conant addresses the crowd at the Start Spreadin' the News fundraiser on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2012, at New York-New York.

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Chef Scott Conant at Bid Against Hunger in 2011 hosted by City Harvest in New York City.

Chef Scott Conant insists that he is a nice guy and nothing like the stern judge on the Food Network’s “Chopped.” “I am much nicer,” says the restaurateur, author and TV personality.

Conant, whose Italian restaurant Scarpetta is at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and one of five in the U.S., is at the casino resort from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Queue Bar to meet fans and sign copies of his new cookbook “The Scarpetta Cookbook.”

A portion of sales at the signing benefits Keep Memory Alive at the downtown Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. After the book signing, a fundraising event also benefiting KMA is at Scarpetta from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Conant will be on hand to mix and mingle and sign books, and guests will enjoy wine, assaggini and aperitivi from the book. Tickets are $150 per person and can be purchased at KeepMemoryAlive.org by clicking on Upcoming Events at the bottom of the homepage.

“The Scarpetta Cookbook” includes 125 of the restaurant’s signature dishes, including creamy polenta with fricassee of truffled mushrooms and fennel-dusted black cod. Conant, a fan of the polenta, chatted on the phone last week ahead of his Cosmopolitan events.

“Hi, Don. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.”

Hi, chef, and thank you. So what’s new in “The Scarpetta Cookbook” for readers and fans?

There is a focus on elements people like at our restaurants that set us apart — ambience, cooking food, the approach and execution. The cookbook offers tips to help people execute this at home; the goal was to create a book that offers certain experiences and tools to re-create in the comfort of home.

Why did you select Keep Memory Alive as a charity for your book-signing fundraiser at the Cosmopolitan?

I wanted to do something local in Las Vegas, just as we localize all the restaurants. When I competed on “Chopped,” Keep Memory Alive was my choice of charity. I won, winning $50,000, which was nice to do in outreach and knowing that it will go to something. Larry and Camille Ruvo are wonderful friends, and I’m always happy to do anything to help them.

How are your various Scarpetta locations different?

We localize every menu and venue. The Scarpetta at the Cosmopolitan has a cosmopolitan lifestyle feel. It has the incredible views overlooking the Bellagio Fountains. There aren’t a lot of fine-dining options with Italian food. We want an approachability and an elegance, to bring the two together. And we love to work with local purveyors.

What do you enjoy most about meeting your fans?

(Laughs.) What I most enjoy? Let me tell what I don’t enjoy! When fans say, “You’re so nice in person. I thought you would be mean like on TV.” I tell them it’s just a small snapshot of who I am. I am much nicer. I am looking forward to Las Vegas because so many people come from all over the country.

So you’re nicer than Gordon Ramsay?

Uh, you know what? I blame it all on the edit! And Gordon is a great guy.

Chef Scott Conant's Tips for Making Great Spaghetti

Chef Scott Conant and Las Vegas Weekly's Sarah Feldberg make spaghetti in the Scarpetta restaurant kitchen at the Cosmopolitan Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Launch slideshow »
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2013 UNLVino's first-ever Bar-B-Q honoring Scott Sibella with the Dom Perignon Award of Excellence at The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health on Sunday, April 21, 2013. From left: Angelo Sosa, Masaharu Morimoto, Sibella, Gustav Mauler, Scott Conant and Michael Severino.

Agreed. He’s nothing like on television. I’ve watched you as a judge on “Chopped.” Any other TV and non-TV projects coming up for you? Perhaps a sixth Scarpetta location?

No, nothing at the moment. I’m focused on the new cookbook. It’s a lot of fun, as is my Centurion Lounge at McCarran Airport. Have you been? If not, you should check it out. I’m striving to make it relevant and fresh and fun, and I think guests are having a really good experience.

A chef on the Food Network recently raved about your creamy polenta at Scarpetta. What do you think you prepare the best?

It’s so hard to say. What am I passionate about? I love food in general. I do love the creamy polenta; I look at a bowl and gain five pounds and immediately need to go on a diet. I definitely lose all sense of willpower when it’s around. It’s my Kryptonite.

What are your favorite dishes — guilty-pleasure dishes?

I really love Bangkok in the summer. The street markets in Bangkok and the Thai food are such an amazing experience. The layers of flavors the old ladies prepare are inspiring.

And guilty pleasure … peanut butter — reduced fat, extra-chunky peanut butter. I’ll eat it out of the jar, the whole thing. My wife thinks it’s disgusting.

Have you been to Lotus of Siam?

Many times. I was there the last time when I was shooting with Andrew Zimmern. Nothing against it, because it’s terrific, but there is nothing like experiencing the markets in Bangkok.

Burger joints and pubs have popped up left and right here in Las Vegas. What do you think is the next food-industry trend?

(Laughs.) If I had that kind of foresight, I would have picked my lottery numbers and have a boat off the coast of Italy. I’m not concerned about trends, but rather something long lasting that can be appreciated.

What are your must-dine restaurants while you’re in Las Vegas?

The last time I was in town, Nobu at Caesars Palace wasn’t open yet or had just opened, so I’m looking forward to going there. I’m really impressed with Caesars’ food program in the last couple of years. I want to check out Michael Mina’s new pub [Pub 1842 in MGM Grand]. I’m a fan. Lunch at China Poblano; I love anything Jose Andres does. The list goes on and on. Cut steakhouse at the Palazzo; I’m a huge Wolfgang Puck fan. Jean-George [Vongerichten]’s Bellagio steakhouse Prime is spectacular. Kabuto is spectacular. Raku Sweets next door blew my mind; it is so much fun.

Those are some amazing places. Chef, thank you for your time.

Thank you again for taking the time to talk with me. Be well!

Don Chareunsy is senior editor for arts and entertainment of the Las Vegas Sun.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

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