Chef Scott Conant of Scarpetta fame comes to Aventura this month to match up with Chef Michael Mina for an “East Meets West” Party for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Taking place Feb. 24 to 28, the festival travels north to Broward County for the first time this year featuring the Taste Fort Lauderdale Series. We caught up with Conant ahead of the festival to talk its expansion to Fort Lauderdale and his culinary mentors.
How did you get involved with the South Beach Wine and Food Festival?
I’ve been doing this festival since year two. I had an apartment down there for about 15 years. I got involved fortunately pretty early on. It’s South Florida. … It’s really cold in February in New York. That was some of the initial attraction. It’s nice to get away. I was single at the time. I fell in love with it down there.
How does this festival compare to others?
There are over 50 festivals in the country. The premier ones are definitely Aspen and South Beach, and New York. There’s not a lot that I do. … I really like to engage in the ones that I do. My favorite is Miami. I have a big footprint down there. It’s an opportunity for all of us to get together.
What can we expect at the “East Meets West” dinner at Turnberry Isle in Aventura?
Michael’s a West Coast-based chef. That was the original conversation—the signature cuisines to both of us. For me it’s the hardy, rustic, refined Italian cooking. For Michael, he’s known for his beautiful American cooking. Those are our basic styles. He’s a California chef. The quality of his product is always straightforward. It’ll be fun … I guess I gotta buy the drinks.
What do you make of the festival expanding north to Fort Lauderdale?
Miami for a lot people is a bit hectic and bustling. It makes sense that a lot of people would spend time in Fort Lauderdale. You still get that taste of what the event is. We’re all looking forward to it.
As a TV personality with the Food Network, your career involves so much more than cooking now. Is cooking still your favorite part?
I enjoy everything. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. I love it. I always say that my career is food-based, not just cooking. I enjoy all of the other peripheral aspects, so to speak. Between shooting and working with different companies—there’s a lot of revenues at this point. It’s hard to say … I love to cook … it’s my first love. But I love the way the business has evolved over the years.
Who are your culinary mentors?
I like people like the big guys— Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges. I like the way they do their business. … [I like] Stephen Starr as well, from a restaurateur perspective. I like the way that he’s about quality. He has 17 restaurants, most of them in Philadelphia; two in South Florida. People like that, I have a tremendous amount of respect for.