Chef Scott Conant is saying hello to a local, friendly crowd just a few miles away from the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip. He is the first celebrity chef to bring his bold Italian cuisine and passionate work ethic away from the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas Boulevard.
The Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, a Stations Casino four-diamond AAA-rated destination, eagerly anticipated the opening of Conant’s Masso Osteria, which means “boulder” in Italian, named in honor of the surrounding area’s remarkable red rock landscape.
CLASS met up with the affable and astute chef, whose warm, friendly demeanor immediately puts everyone at ease.
What made you choose to go from being a Strip restaurateur, to opening Masso within a popular off-Strip locals venue?
First of all, it has been 10 years since I’ve been spending time in Las Vegas, and I’ve garnered a lot of friendships and relationships. This is a locals 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.
Did the fact that we now have major sports teams coming to Las Vegas, as well as a professional baseball and Vegas Golden Knights practice facility right next to the Red Rock influence your decision?
Let’s just say it didn’t hurt!
Las Vegas has many great Italian restaurants. What is it about your brand that makes it stand out?
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.
How often will you be coming to Las Vegas?
CONANT: Very frequently, since I’m now in Scottsdale (Arizona), and it’s only a 45-minute flight or a short drive.
What is your favorite meal to cook for your family?
CONANT: When I have friends come over, I love doing risotto, pasta or a nice rib eye of beef that, when you put it front of people, there is a wow factor.
I did turkey for Thanksgiving, which is a fresh memory for me because I’m not home very often. It turned out beautifully, and I got the most likes on Instagram.
Please describe Masso in one word.
CONANT: Yes, I can do that in one word; the word is convivial. It captures that sense of happiness and 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.
What is the No. 1 thing you hope draws people into your restaurant?
CONANT: That’s interesting because I just had a conversation with my team. What I feel the staff should exude to the guests … is heart — simple as that. I understand the idea that here is another celebrity chef, but I’m 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 is 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 trickle-down effect.
Does your mantra, “Peace, Love and Pasta,” help keep you centered?
CONANT: Yes, that is what keeps me grounded. The sign in the restaurant was designed from my own handwriting.
What advice would you give aspiring culinary students with stars in their eyes?
CONANT: 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 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?
CONANT: I really work nonstop — 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’m not complaining. I’ve 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 a trend to healthy living amongst chefs?
CONANT: Yes, but it’s also easy to self-medicate, and having three or four 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.
Besides your knives, what is one kitchen implement you can’t live without?
CONANT: A spoon — I have a spoon everywhere I go — and a pair of tweezers (for small garnishes). I can always get a knife from someone else. That way, I feel prepared.