Scott Conant Talks Simple Tips For Cooking Italian American Favorites - Exclusive Interview

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There are few out there who have mastered the art and techniques of Italian American cuisine quite like Scott Conant. The award-winning restauranter, cookbook author, and longtime judge of Food Network's "Chopped" is well-known for his Italian-inspired culinary contributions — such as his acclaimed works at dining establishments like L'Impero and Scarpetta NYC, and his New-England-meets-southern-Italy approach to cooking, which you can experience firsthand through his newest cookbook, "Peace, Love, and Pasta." He's certainly beloved across Food Network and beyond for his sassy attitude and his victory on "Chopped: All Stars," not to mention appearances on a range of shows from "Beat Bobby Flay" to "The Kitchen" — and of course, his famed distaste for onions.

Tasting Table got the chance to catch up with Conant recently while attending the Food Network New York City Wine and Food Festival presented by Capital One. Conant was there to show off some of his skills and teach us all a thing or two about Italian food in a live cooking demo. He also co-hosted a signature event, Peroni's Taste of Italy, with his longtime friend and fellow "Chopped" judge, Alex Guarnaschelli.

The weekend was as food-filled and delicious as it sounds. In between all the fun, Conant shared some of his expertise in Italian American cooking — from pasta to meatballs to veal parmesan — in an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, live from the NYCWFF.

Hosting Peroni's Taste of Italy at the New York City Wine and Food Festival

It's exciting to see you and Alex Guarnaschelli out here together. As two fellow Italian chefs, how far back does your friendship go?

We've known each other for probably 23 years now. [It] doesn't feel like 23 years.

Can you remember the first time you guys met or worked together?

We had mutual friends, and I had a pastry chef that she was friends with. That's how we met, years ago.

What about Whoopi Goldberg? How'd you get to know her?

I don't know her at all. I just met her tonight ... I want to ask her about the old Comic Relief stuff they used to do years ago. Back in the '80s, they had this thing called Comic Relief. It was her, Billy Crystal, and Robin Williams, and it was a charity organization, but it was a spectacular dynamic comedy show. It was really special.

If you were going to cook something for her tonight to impress her, what would it be?

Anything she wanted. She's Whoopi. She's a legend.

Campari is another sponsor for [Taste of Italy]. What do you think of this huge craze going on right now with the Negroni sbagliato because of "House of the Dragon"?

God bless them. A little Prosecco on top of Campari ... you're never going to go wrong.

The key to good veal parmesan, according to Scott Conant

Can you talk about what you're going to be showcasing at the grand tasting this weekend?

I am showcasing myself. I'm making my version of the veal Parmesan. [It's] a veal chopped, a cutlet pounded out — big, the size of my head — and then breaded and fried in a pan with melted baby tomatoes and burrata. It's not your traditional mozzarella-topped [veal] and baked in the oven.

If we're going to try to make veal parmesan or chicken parm at home, what are your top tips for getting it perfect?

I have a book called "Peace, Love, and Pasta," and there's a spectacular chicken parm recipe in there — hashtag "shameless plug." But the real key ... I don't like when that breading on the chicken or veal gets soggy. I like to keep the components separate.

I like these melted baby tomatoes and burrata on top. It's a little more elevated of an idea, but still those same flavor profiles.

Scott Conant addresses our biggest Italian food mistakes

What is the one dish you think Americans get wrong the most when it comes to Italian food?

Pasta is a challenge for a lot of people. You know that idea where you take a piece of spaghetti and to see if it's done, throw it up against the wall, and if it sticks, it's done? That breaks my heart.

Make sure the pasta water is salted — it should taste like broth. A lot of people say [you should] make it taste like the ocean, but I use that pasta water when I'm cooking the pasta in the sauce. As it reduces and it tastes like the ocean, it becomes too salty.

Meatballs are definitely also one of those things that every Italian American chef needs to get right, and it's so hard.

Exactly. It depends on what you want. I don't like beef in my meatballs. My mother makes meatballs with beef and they're great, so I don't want to disparage my mom.

So you eat them when she makes them.

100%. I make mine with ground veal and ground pork. The real key is the ... It's called a panna. You take bread and soak it in milk or cream, squeeze out the excess liquid, and mix that in your meatball. It becomes really soft and palatable.

For the latest from chef Scott Conant, follow him on Instagram. Plus, click here to learn more about the annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival Presented by Capital One, and be sure to check out the highlights from this year's event.

This interview was edited for clarity.