What happens when you get celebrity chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Scott Conant in a room together to talk food? You take a trip down memory lane, laugh (a lot!), and walk away with a fresh look at the future of the restaurant industry.
While you might know Samuelsson & Conant from television shows like Chopped — Conant is the host of Chopped Sweets, a new dessert-themed spin-off of the popular Food Network show — these two are also entrepreneurs, cookbook authors, longtime friends and colleagues.
We recently sat down with the two at Conant’s newest venture, Cellaio, an Italian-inspired steakhouse at Resorts World Catskills in Monticello. Here’s what they had to share about food trends and their thoughts for the year ahead.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson — As chefs, I don’t think you look at trends so much in terms of the latest ingredients; you’re looking at seasonality and how you want to express something. Being environmental and green is not a trend or a fad, it’s a responsibility. The ‘Greta Thunberg effect’ is a way of life. I’m Swedish, so I’m bias. We both have kids and will have failed massively if we are handing over this thing [the world] in a worse condition than we got it. Chefs can be part of the solution.
Chef Scott Conant — All too often, we see overindulgence as a trend. We’ve lost some really good chefs this year to overindulgence. Whether it’s a trend or otherwise, there is a switch in awareness that’s happening; it’s starting to turn. We’re starting to see wellness categories opening up a little better for chefs. It’s all about creating that balance between things. Portion sizes of meats are getting a little bit smaller and plates are getting more vegetable forward.
Samuelsson — I think also that kitchens in general, just like customers, are becoming much more democratic. It’s not a trend that women are crushing it and doing much better in the field. It’s the right thing. It’s great to see our industry diversify in different ethnicities and we are celebrating that. One of the good things with everyone becoming a critic, is that the gatekeepers are less and now everyone can broadcast that. We came up in a [traditional] review system. Maybe you would get reviewed every third year, and that was that. Now you are constantly being reviewed. That has changed our industry and, in one way, has made it much more democratic.
Conant — One thing about doing all of these [television] shows is that we get to see some young talent before they are really on the scene. I feel like some of the young chefs that are coming up right now tend to look at the global perspective a little more than we did and they aren’t penned into one or two cities like New York and San Francisco. With life being what it is, a lot of people can’t afford to live in those cities. Now, there are a lot of really good, really high end restaurants, all over this county — which is very different than what it used to be. It used to be one or two. Now you can literally travel this country and learn multiple cuisines from a lot of great chefs in cities like Nashville, Austin, Milwaukee, Oklahoma. There are great restaurants in places where they didn’t necessarily exist before.
Note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.