Meet legendary chef and pasta maestro Scott Conant

World-renowned chef Scott Conant talks about his career, his family and his famous spaghetti pomodoro.

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Scott Conant is the founder of the restaurant Scarpetta, which is located at 88 Madison Ave. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Talia Scolaro, Contributing Writer

Growing up in an Italian household, pasta has always been a staple meal in my life.

There’s nothing better than waking up on Sunday morning and smelling Mom’s homemade tomato sauce on the burner. Pasta signifies love in my family, and since moving to New York City, I no longer get to have my mom’s rigatoni every Sunday. I miss that comforting feeling of love that emerged from my family when we were cooking pasta, and therefore, I realized I needed to find that feeling here in the city.

I commenced the search for the best Italian food in the city and stumbled across Scarpetta. Originally owned and created by celebrity chef Scott Conant, Scarpetta is where New York City chic meets authentic Italian. The menu consists of a wide selection of raw appetizers, vegetables, pasta, fish and meat — all the essentials of a traditional Italian dinner. However, what consistently draws me back to this exquisite Italian joint is the most mouth-watering and unforgettable plate of pasta in a tomato-basil sauce you will ever have — spaghetti pomodoro.

I got the chance to sit down with the mastermind behind this iconic dish, world-renowned chef Scott Conant. His culinary career has spanned more than 35 years, establishing him as one of the world’s leading chefs. Conant is a frequent face on Food Network, having been a judge on “Chopped” for over a decade and a frequent co-host on “Beat Bobby Flay.” In addition, Chef Conant has made multiple guest appearances on “The Today Show,” “The Kelly Clarkson Show” and “Good Morning America.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: How did you get into cooking?

Conant: Well, I was 15 when I got my first job in a restaurant as a dishwasher. I remember that moment of walking into a restaurant kitchen for the first time. It was just such a foreign place for me. I never experienced anything like it. I remember saying to my mother, I don’t know where this can take me, but I know that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I also went to a vocational school in Waterbury, Connecticut. And the way vocational schools work is, you know, you have academics 50% of the time and the other 50% of the time you focus on a trade. So I chose the culinary arts.

WSN: That’s incredible. I’ve heard that you have been making your famous spaghetti pomodoro for 30 years. How did you come about this recipe?

Conant: Years ago when I moved to New York City in 1990, I worked in a restaurant called San Domenico. San Domenico had a version of it. It was called pasta la chitarra, which is a very thick pasta that they roll over a guitar-like pasta cutter, which is where the name chitarra comes from. So we did a version of it there. I kind of tweaked it over the years and things like that. Obviously it’s a classic flavor profile. Tomatoes and basil, right? You can’t go wrong with something like that. The way I like to think about it is it’s a sum of all its parts, and everything needs to be done correctly in order to achieve the right texture and flavor profile. You can’t overcook the tomatoes — I cook them for about 45 minutes. I finish it with an infused oil of garlic, crushed red pepper and basil. And we finish with a touch of butter and a little bit of Parmesan cheese, but it really is that fresh basil at the end. It really is, like I said, the sum of its parts.

WSN: I heard you do have a book called “Peace, Love and Pasta” What’s the story behind that?

Conant: Well, you know, I feel like food is so special, right? These moments, particularly with family, or especially with my kids, it shapes their vision of family and of those moments at the table. For me, those are really important moments that kind of shape the minds of our children for the future and eventually their children – my future grandchildren. It’s a bonding point. Those are special moments, particularly for the parent. I mean, it’s important for the child, but, as a father, I realize now how important those moments are. So “Peace, Love, and Pasta” is really that expression of all those things that I love and that I cook for my family. Essentially, it’s not limited to pasta — it sounds like it would just be a pasta book. But it really is those moments of sharing, sitting around the table, having a conversation, and eating food that we really love that we can bond over and express the happiness with that.

WSN: Yeah, absolutely. I can’t wait to read it! International Pappardelle Day is coming up on Nov. 10 and I have to know, what is your all time favorite pasta dish?

Conant: It’s hard to say, but I think if somebody said to me, “You could have one pasta for the rest of your life, and only that,” it would probably be spaghetti aglio e olio. Again, spaghetti, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, maybe a little anchovy inside there, crushed red pepper and parsley. I mean literally the most simple dish but it’s an extraction of flavor of all of those ingredients that really kind of harmonize the right way. The perfect salt content, great texture, the pasta, the deep flavor of the garlic, the olive oil, the crushed pepper and the anchovy — I mean, when that is done correctly, it’s like, you know, it’s like gears that just work.

Chef Conant is able to bring expert technique and overflowing passion to his craft, which is noted with every bite of his famous spaghetti pomodoro. Head to Scarpetta on 88 Madison Ave. to get a taste of pasta heaven!

Contact Talia Scolaro at [email protected]