Chef Scott Conant Moves Off Strip for His Newest Venue in Las Vegas

Elaine and Scott Harris

After moving on from Scarpetta the Cosmopolitan last year, chef Scott Conant may have said goodbye to the  Las Vegas Strip, but it was hello to a new crowd. The restaurateur and judge of “Chopped” is the first celebrity chef to bring his passionate work ethic (and bold Italian cuisine) to the Red Rock Casino, Resort, and Spa. Station Casino’s 4 Diamond AAA-rated destination hotel eagerly anticipated the opening of Conant’s Masso Osteria meaning “boulder” in Italian, honoring the remarkable surrounding red rock landscape. Conant’s honest Italian cooking and dedication to his craft have garnered him numerous industry accolades. Now resident Southern Nevadans and visitors have the opportunity to experience this celebrity chef’s 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.

The Daily Meal: Why did you decide to go from being a Strip restaurateur to opening Masso within to a venue popular with local?
Scott Conant: First of all it has been 10 years since I started spending time in Las Vegas, and I have developed 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 of the 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.

We have major sport teams coming to Las Vegas, including the Raiders and now professional baseball and NHL hockey practice facility right next to the Red Rock. Where these developments an influence on you making the decision to open here?
Let’s just say it did not hurt.

There are many great Italian restaurants in Las Vegas. What is it about your brand that is going to stand out from the rest? 
I feel like I made a good splash here over the years, with some good success, but I felt like I didn’t have many locals coming to [Scarpetta]. I have good relationships with many and have been involved in charity work here – whether it being Community in Schools, Keep Memory Alive or Opportunity Village. The things that I am involved in here locally have separated us from the other Italian restaurants.

What is your favorite meal to cook for your family?
If my weight weren’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 beef ribeye that when you put it front of people there is a wow factor. I did turkey for Thanksgiving, which is fresh memory for me because I am not home very often, and it turned out beautifully and I got the most likes on Instagram.

In one word how would you describe Masso?
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 restaurant that ingratiates itself to the people who want to come here and spend time here, which is the intention.

What is the number one thing you want to draw people into you doors with?
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 here 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.

Your mantra is “Peace, Love and Pasta.” Does that help keep you centered?
Yes, that is what keeps me grounded. The sign in the restaurant was designed from my own handwriting.

It takes a village to make this all work. Are there any certain people you would like to acknowledge? 
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 toward the same goal.

What advice would you give an aspiring culinary student who may have stars in their eyes?
I once saw the Dalai 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.

What do you do to relax when not in the kitchen? 
I really work non-stop, all day every day. I work more now than I did as a young chef. I think my only downtime 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.

It must be a challenge to balance it all. Is there more of a trend to healthy living among chefs?
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.

Aside from you knives what is one kitchen could you not live without?
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.  

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Find out about other hands-on chefs who still get their hands dirty in the kitchen