After shuttering Scarpetta and wine bar D.O.C.G at the Cosmopolitan last year, this as not good bye for Chef Scott Conant but a new hello to a more local friendly crowd just a few miles away from the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip. Restaurateur, Food network Star and judge of “Chopped” is the first celebrity chef to bring his passionate work ethic and bold Italian cuisine away from the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip.
Station Casino’s 4 Diamond AAA rated destination hotel the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa eagerly anticipated the opening of Conant’s Masso Osteria meaning “boulder” in Italian thus honoring the remarkable surrounding red rock landscape. Conant’s honest Italian cooking and dedication to his craft have garnered him celebrity chef status and numerous industry accolades which now give resident Southern Nevadans and visitors a unique opportunity to experience a celebrity chef culinary excellence in a local setting.
Trading the hustle and bustle of New York for the arid desert landscape, Conant has made his home in Scottsdale and plans on frequenting his newest restaurant endeavor on a regular basis. We had a few minutes to meet up with this affable and astute chef, whose warm and friendly demeanor immediately puts everyone at ease.
Cuisineist: We wanted to know why you decided to go from being a Strip restaurateur to now opening Masso within to a popular local’s venue, the Red Rock Casino and Resort.
SC: First of all it has been 10 years since I have been spending time in Las Vegas and I have garnered a lot of friendships and relationships. There are a lot of locals here that do a great job particularly hospitality wise. This is a local’s casino and I feel that you don’t get a lot of the local appreciation on the Strip because it draws a lot of tourists. Yes, it is fun and happening but not everyone wants to deal with that. The attention here is in creating something the locals can appreciate. Casinos have been part of the nightlife for a very long time and is loved by many. Gambling can be done in an array of ways, such as online at FanDuel or other online sites. In fact, if you’re planning on going to a casino to try your luck, you may even want to head online to sites like verajohn.se where you can get some practice in before going to a physical casino. I remember the first time I ever went to a casino I was awful. I lost so much money and to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I was a laughing stock! I knew that I had to try something to improve my gambling techniques so I went online and found some slot sites that I could practice on. The next time I went to the casino, I won over $100 on the slot machines! Practise makes perfect!
Cuisineist: We have major sports teams coming to Las Vegas, including the Raiders and now professional baseball and NHL hockey practice facility right next to the Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa. Where these developments influence you making the decision to open here?
SC: Let’s just say it did not hurt.
Cuisineist: There are many great Italian restaurants in Las Vegas. What is it about your brand that is going to stand out from the rest?
SC: I feel like I made a good splash here after the years over year, with some good success. But like I said I felt like I didn’t have many locals coming to the restaurant (Scarpetta). I have good relationships with many of the locals and have been involved in charity work here whether it being Community in Schools, Keep Memory Alive or Opportunity Village. These things that I am involved in here locally have separated us from the other Italian restaurants.
Cuisineist: How often will you be coming to Las Vegas?
SC: Very frequently since I am now in Scottsdale and it is only a 45-minute flight or a short drive.
Cuisineist: What is your favorite meal to cook for your family?
SC: If my weight wasn’t an issue, I would cook pasta all the time. But when I have friends come over, I love doing risotto, pasta or a nice rib eye of beef that when you put in front of people there is a wow factor. I did Turkey for Thanksgiving which is a fresh memory for me because I am not home very often, and it turned out beautifully and I got the most likes on Instagram.
Cuisineist: In one word how would you describe Masso?
SC: Yes, I can do that in one word. The word is convivial, which captures that sense of happiness and sense of gregariousness, a general sense of enthusiasm that I want people to have inside this place; whether it is enthusiasm for the food, the atmosphere, the vibe, or the service. There is a lot inside the restaurant that ingratiates itself to the people who want to come here and spend time here, which is the intention.
Cuisineist: What is the number one thing you want to draw people into your doors with?
SC: That’s interesting because I just had a conversation with my team. What I feel that the staff should exude to the guests who walk in the door…is heart, simple as that. I understand the idea that there is another celebrity chef but I am not completely comfortable with that; I am a restaurant guy who has been working in restaurants since I was 15 years old. This is a part of what I do and all the other stuff I do is to make this all work. The fact of the matter is I want people to know that this really heartfelt for me. Happy cooks, cook happy food, and happy servers serve happy guests and that’s the way it should be. Pardon the term but it is a trickledown effect.
Cuisineist: Your mantra is, “Peace, Love, and Pasta”. Does that saying help keep you centered?
SC: Yes, that is what keeps me grounded. The sign in the restaurant was designed from my own handwriting.
Cuisineist: It takes a village of people to make this all work. Are there any certain people you would like to acknowledge?
SC: Yes, I have many core team members that make this all work for which I am thankful to, such as Dan Tackett my Corporate Chef who a super star. He is the guy in the background toiling away and doesn’t always get the credit. My Director of Restaurants, Gilles, Jay Kolakowski, Irene Chang and many others are all swimming in their own lane, but we are all swimming towards the same goal.
Cuisineist: What advice would you give an aspiring culinary student who may have stars in their eyes?
SC: I once saw the Dali Lama speak and he said he never gives unsolicited advice, that is not his role, but if you ask him he would be happy to tell you. I would ask what advice I would give my 20 year old self. I would say don’t go out drinking all night and making a jackass out of yourself. You can never get that time back. It is nice to have fun but apply yourself. When you are younger you often think you know it all. I can only speak for myself, but I wish I had taken business classes to fill in my own blanks. If you can do that you are better off knowing business. Learning to understand negotiating tactics, contracts and all that stuff is very important as far as the business side of things. Also, working very hard in learning how to articulate a thought well is also very important. Learn to talk about food, taste and your experience. I wish I would have known these things earlier on, but I have self-educated myself so to speak.
Cuisineist: What do you do to relax when not in the kitchen?
SC: I really work non-stop, all day every day. I work more now than I did as a young chef. I think my only down-time is on a plane going place to place. I am not complaining. I have been on both sides of this and this is where I would rather be as opposed to no one is calling. Self perseveration is the biggest thing.
Cuisineist: It must be a challenge to balance it all. Is there more of a trend to healthy living amongst Chefs?
SC: Yes, but it also easy to self medicate and having three or 4 glasses of wine at the end of the evening can become a vicious cycle that disrupts sleep patterns. The alcohol really needs to be cut out. At a certain age things need to become a bit healthier. You see so many Chefs going from self indulgence to a healthier lifestyle. Many have young children and want to be there for them.
Cuisineist: Aside from you knives what is one kitchen could you not live without?
SC: A spoon, I have a spoon everywhere I go and a pair of tweezers. I can always get a knife from someone else. That way I feel prepared.