If you taste Scott Winegard's dishes, you see care, innovation and excitement. But you probably don't think of punk.
In this episode I uncover Scott's winding journey from his early days in the garden, to musical world tours, to beautiful food, a path that bears Scott's signature: bringing the best out of plants.
Scott is Director of Culinary Operations at Matthew Kenney Cuisine, and he first ran into Matthew back at the (original, good old) Pure Food & Wine in around 2004, where Matthew was starting to redefine what raw food could be.
Now 12 years later they work together closely to push plant cuisine forward even further, within Matthew Kenney’s mini-empire which includes culinary schools in Venice California, Thailand and Maine, and restaurants like the two Plant Food and Wines - one in Venice, and one in Miami, and now the newly opened 00+co plant-based pizzeria in New York, and Asian-inspired Arata in Belfast, Maine.
"We didn't call it ‘foraging’. We just said "oh there's some wild berries"
As a born and bred New Yorker, Scott’s discovered seasonal plant-based cuisine super early, by foraging before it was cool, as a child, for edible plants in the back yard. He’s a skate kid, and came across the concept of being vegetarian almost by accident at school, but doubled down on it after that lifestyle resonated so strongly in the punk bands he would see at shows in New York as a teenager.
“I was like ‘you’re a vegetarian? Woah.”
Scott's a successful musician in his own right — as the bassist in the influential emo band Texas is The Reason in the mid-90s, and other bands like New End Original. His food career and music career weaved back and forth, from Angelica Kitchen, the New York plant food institution open since 1975, for several years, to staging at Noma (named as #1 in the world’s top 50 restaurants multiple times) in Denmark under Rene Redzepi, to doing private chef work, popups and small restaurants, Scott's done it all.
“we've got the power,
we've got the might,
to take whatever is in sight”
Lyrics from “No More” by Youth of Today
I sat down with Scott at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC to talk about how in the space of just a few months this year, Matthew and he have developed three brand new menus, three completely different restaurants, all of which push plant-based cuisine a step forward.
"If someone or something is in the way of you being the best as a team, get it out of your way"
And pushing things forward is what Scott's food is all about. As Scott describes in the podcast, achieving success and innovation as a high-level plant-based chef meant looking beyond the world of vegetarian food.
"I realized I could look at all this great food that wasn't vegetarian and still be inspired"
After recording this episode with Scott I was able to visit Arata, which is a restaurant that really expresses something unique — expert, laid-back but thoughtful Asian plant-based cuisine. From noodles to bao to fresh salads to a unique cocktail menu, there’s a lot of visual appeal and a lot of texture in each dish. For example in their Spicy Udon, in addition to heat, you also get a little crunch and a little color that you might not normally see. All credit to Matthew and Scott and the rest of the team for trying something new and succeeding.
You’re going to love this one (as I hope you love all the upcoming episodes too). It’s a rare and warm glimpse into the life of a chef who is doing consistently excellent work.
Topics we discuss:
Scott talks about all the habits that have helped him continually improve and succeed as a plant-based chef. Listening to him, you’ll see how this guy thinks so carefully, and is constantly looking for ways to up his game despite the continual demands and stress of kitchen life.
"If you're hung up on not having time you'll never have time"
How he develops menus from concept to execution
The top three things he learned at Noma under René Redzepi
How to fold towels and cut tape
How being a private chef is not as easy as many chefs think
How to get noticed in the kitchen as a young chef
How to be a leader in the kitchen
How to avoid being the typical “angry chef”
Work/life balance while opening and overseeing several restaurants
Meat substitutes and their use as a “transition” food
“You've been vegan for 15 years, how long do you have to ‘transition’ for?”
Nut cheeses and “a super-funky 6-month old nut cheddar”
The delight at seeing culinary students experiment and improve
How the traditional expectations and demands of work in the kitchen need to change.
"We need to change this culture. It can't be 16 hours of work a day. We have to figure out a better way".
And of course, the perfect quenelle
Matthew Kenney Restaurants
Arata, the new Matthew Kenney restaurant opening in Belfast, Maine
Plant Food & Wine, Venice, CA
Plant Food + Wine, Miami ,FL
00+Co - plant-based pizza and sides in the East Village, NY
Restaurants and people mentioned in this episode:
Find Scott online:
Book: Plant Food (Matthew Kenney, Meredith Baird, Scott Winegard)