We here at ZzyxX love people that break norms. Scott Winegard is one of those such people. From New York City, Scott Winegard's talents are in full bloom at Abbot Kinney's premiere restaurant named Plant Food + Wine in Venice Beach, California. Matthew Kenney, who is the owner of Plant Food + Wine, has been named one of America's Best New Chefs by Food and Wine Magazine, besides doing a TED talk in 2011.
We graciously got an exclusive opportunity to sit down with Scott Winegard and chat about his passion and commitment to fresh, seasonal and vibrant cuisine. When he was the Chef de Cuisine of Pure Food & Wine, his menu was the only pure vegetarian restaurant to be named on New York Magazine’s 2006 list of the 101 best restaurants in the city.
Scott has also served as a Chef for a select group of private clients in media, television, style and beyond. He goes from one side of the ocean and swims to another with his skill. We talk about his coming up to where he's at now and in between, so we hope you enjoy the chat....
Being in a kitchen and in a band, do you collaborate much with your team at Plant Food + Wine?
Yea, building a strong team is huge and it’s tough to get the right people together. I definitely see the head chefs of the kitchens as the “lead guitar player” for sure. They are the guys/gals that come in and hold it together. I have to train my team and trust them to season the right way and plate the dish the right way (well, not the “right" way because there isn’t a right or wrong way of doing anything), I’m definitely open to hearing suggestions and I’ll say, “Oh!…That's a good way!" And it’s how I learn and grow. Everyone in the kitchen here has a lot of kitchen experience, who learned things from another chef, who learned it from another chef, and it’s a big cycle of influence.
It's kind of like jamming with different musicians?
Oh yea, definitely. Like, jamming with a sick drummer or a guitarist who was playing some crazy chords and you can learn off of him and make your team better and songs more interesting.
We talked earlier about how music is like flavors,
Do you think of the dishes you make as albums?
I never really thought of it that way before now, but I do see some menus as an album, especially when we do tasting menus where we serve multiple courses in succession.
The amuse bouche is the perfect intro, the first couple of songs get you ready, and the 3rd or 4th might be what you hope to be the hit single. The desserts are like that big noisy track with the amazing chorus you want everyone to sing along to.
Are there standard dishes that people like? Like poke, salad, pizza?
You know, in this restaurant (PFW), we’re adventurous….and for me, I like to make things that are nontraditional. For example, it’s not just a “Ravioli,” so I’ll mix some things together and make something that isn’t a familiar thing. We mix things and we strive to get people familiar with what we do, especially when you’re running a business. Right now, we make really good ravioli, but I’m way more influenced by a chef who does a Tasting menu. I want to give guests a new experience. People are getting a good experience with what we do here. We’re trying to to incorporate this kind of (vegan) food, too, for people to live a better life through gastronomy. Eat good, source food the right way and feel good all while being in a place where you can come and feel comfortable and want to return soon.
You wrote the book, Plant Food…How do you see the future of food?
I definitely see the general public opening up to eating more healthy and understanding where our food comes from. We have seen chefs be very anti-vegan, or even anti-vegetarian, and now we are seeing the same chefs put vegan items on the menu. I think people are becoming more in tune with how foods affect your body. I don’t think people really look at the eco effects of the food, because I think people are really in the now. But when people start feeling shitty and they realize that they can eat better, NOW they have more energy and feel much better and look better.
When touring in the 90’s across America, there wasn’t any Whole Foods. I had to go to the hippy market just to get soy milk. It was really hard. Also, I remember going to a Denny’s Restaurant after a show and ordering a salad and saying “that’s not a tomato… it’s white?, tomatoes are red.” It’s easier to get better produce and variety now. I’m not going to tell anyone that they need to go Vegan, that’s they're own choice. I just ask to be honest with yourself and that’s the experience we try to provide in our restaurants. It’s about finding balance between what makes you feel good to what makes you feel better. Sure, it’s great for you to make every meal the with the best and most healthy ingredients, but if you can only start out with doing it once or twice a week, that’s great! You’re on the right path and do what makes you feel good.
I am lucky I am surrounded with the best ingredients all day, everyday; although, there are some times I just want something fast and not so elaborate. Even something that isn’t the best ingredients or “healthy”. Like I said, finding the balance that works for you is the most important.
You’re letting the ingredients do the work.
Sourcing and having the highest quality ingredients is the equivalent for a musician to playing through the best amp. If I get a cheap Peavey amp, then the sound won’t be as good as my 70’s Ampeg SVT full stack. Also, the cheap Fender Squire bass won’t sound as good as an old 1971 Jazz bass that I have had for 20 years and is perfectly weathered and just feels right for me. The same goes with food- getting the best ingredients and letting them work together to get the best results.
Did you ever anticipate this level of success?
No, I had no idea. I thought I was going to stick to the music business. After Texas Is The Reason broke up, I started a record label with my friend, who also worked at a big record label. I would also go in and intern to help him and answer phones and send mail, etc. I thought that’s what I would be doing, you know. I tried to get into booking tours & book shows for other bands, but it was hard for me to book shows for other bands saying, “These guys are amazing- go check 'em out.” Then a band I booked goes on in South Carolina and not many people show up or receive them as much as we expect, It’s a challenge. Especially when you personally had that success yourself.
In 2001, I moved to California to join another band and record an album with a good producer. Everything was going according to plan, but for many reasons this didn't feel anything like I was expecting. My experience from Texas is the Reason wasn’t landing me in the next musical outlets that I wanted. I learned a lot and had great moments from learning, but with Texas is the Reason, we were all best friends and grew up together. The band came together naturally and so did our music. We knew we didn’t want to be in a “Chugga Chugga” hardcore band, or a fast straight-edge band, even though we loved bands like Minor Threat. We saw and were into bands like Superchunk, Seaweed and Quicksand and Sunny Real Estate. We wanted to be this more melodic kind of a band, but do some heavy things as well. For me, we made our own favorite band. We made what we wanted to hear. We were four friends who knew each other and loved the same kind of music, and loved being with each other and it happened to work.
I knew I liked working in a restaurant and being in that community. I loved providing people with an experience, and being a chef I get to do that.
Going back to your cooking, you’re making the food you want to make right?
For sure! This is the best job in the world. I love going to the Farmers Market and seeing what they have and asking, “How long will this be around?! Can I pre-order that so we can put it on the menu?” Sometimes you write a shitty song or a dish isn’t a hit, but that’s life.
Do you think Veganism was the first DIY?
The punk / Hardcore scene helped me find things I cared about and wanted to share and support.
When I would go on tour, I’d go to the promoter to any town I got in and ask, “Where’s a good vegan place to eat?”
There were always some cool restaurants. I remember in Seattle there was a place called the “Black Cat Cafe” and the employees were all punkers and it was filthy. It was pay what you want and vegan! It was a recipe for failure, but I thought it was so cool. Even when Texas was a band and we were making some money, I STILL worked at Angelica Kitchen because I loved going there. I loved my shifts there and when I moved to California to join the new band, I worked at a juice bar. I wanted to keep busy and be around healthy people. Some would say, “You were the manager at Angelica and now you’re working at a juice bar?!” But I didn’t care. I wanted to be around healthy food and people.
How did you end up where you are today?
I am not classically trained in anything. I tried college. I took a few guitar and bass lessons. I didn’t go to culinary school. But I have always believed in this “thing"… The thing is, if you’re offered an opportunity, you’re not offered it because they think you’re going to fail. You’re offered it because you can do it. With music, I saw an opportunity and I thought, “They go on tour? They go to Europe and play? I want that!!" I bought a bass and said, “Lets start a band!” And I couldn’t even play, but I was starting bands. It was something that I needed to do and I needed it to happen, so I made it happen. There are a LOT better musicians in the world…I know people that are AMAZING musicians, but I never let it bother me. Why should I? I got to be in my favorite band and tour the world? Who cares if i can't play some crazy classical composition?
Same with being a chef. I knew I loved cooking and being around the kitchen environment. I was given the opportunity to take it on and I accepted the challenge and did it.
I understand you’re a private chef as well?
I have done private chef work. Private chef work is good for some people. I like being around a team. Even when I had a full time private chef job, I took a part-time job back at Angelica Kitchen. I went there to be a kitchen manager at night, just to be around people. So during the day, I’d do my thing; and Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, I’d go be a kitchen manager. I thought I was lazy, but here I had three clients and a part-time job filling up my day. I like to stay busy. I was definitely a “No” person for a while, but saying “Yes” can also make you grow and sometimes it’s easier. Now I’ll consider things more and say, “Let me try this or that."
What things are you grateful for?
Everything really. I get up every morning and I’m excited to know what this day is going to be like. I truly enjoy life. Everyday is an awesome experience and I try give an awesome experience to others. I’m grateful for the best friends in the world. I love the work I do. I get to do a lot- whether it be music, cooking and being able to travel the world to do it. I’m just grateful for every day…for this olive tree, the ocean (pointing to the ocean). I find influence and guidance through so many outlets.
Thank you so much, Scott.