Central Florida’s agricultural history has been well known to include abundant harvests of fresh produce, vegetables and livestock. Chef de Cuisine Scott Pizzo, of Orlando’s Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, “Highball & Harvest” restaurant, believes this history of fresh foods and ingredients are what makes the “Farm to Table” concept so appropriate for the dishes served at his restaurant.
“‘Highball’ is the signal a train conductor would use to initiate a full-speed departure, especially when fully-loaded with produce from a harvest… so ‘Highball & Harvest’ is a way to pay homage to the legacy of moving great, fresh food from the farm to the table, something we practice daily here at the restaurant!”
Describing himself as your basic “positive person,” Chef Scott says his daily life goals are “Live, Eat, Breathe, Cooking!” as well as a constant desire to learn, teach, and make the best out of life.
Chef Scott is not one to shy away from what he calls his humble beginnings: “Unlike a lot of chefs, I did not grow up in a ‘cooking’ household. My mom, who was an excellent baker, was not the best cook, and I was not particularly interested in it when I was younger, so I definitely didn’t grow up ‘cooking in the kitchen with Mom and Grandma.’” After a brief pause, he continues to reflect, “Sometimes you have to find things on your own, I guess. My mom passed away when I was 15, and my Dad was working, so I had to learn to cook for myself. That’s where my drive and passion originated… ‘cook or starve’ is a great motivator, and it was that need that opened the door to the rest of my life.”
According to Chef Scott, the first step in creating a successful menu is also the number one rule in being successful in real estate: Location. “I like to start with the location, where the restaurant actually is, finding out what the local cuisine is based on, what foods the area is known for, what ingredients can be easily found locally and brought as freshly as possible into the kitchen. Then I factor in the season, what is currently being harvested, without looking to a different climate or even hemisphere to create flavorful and local dishes. Local is always best, because you understand the markets, seasons, and the products so much better… you know what you’re getting, what you’re eating, what you are putting into your body. You don’t have to rely on someone else telling you, you have your own personal experience!”
“I like to think of the menu at ’Highball & Harvest’ as being traditional Florida food, with local ‘farm to table’ ingredients that really set the stage for a great meal.” Chef Scott believes the ingredients not only create the basis for the taste of the food, but also form the basis for how the entire restaurant is perceived. “The ingredients that you bring into the restaurant, how you make the food, creates the world surrounding it… which provides the vision for what the restaurant is and reflects the atmosphere you want to instill into your guests. If you wish to enhance your guest’s experience, you begin with the ingredients, it’s right on their table, all the tastes, presentation, and quality… that becomes the experience for them.”
When asked what advice he would give an aspiring chef, Chef Scott is quick to say “always keep learning.” “I learned in a classic, French-style kitchen, and it is great to have that background and those techniques. However, when you want to keep learning and expanding your knowledge base, such as Japanese or Italian cuisines, you become familiar with how they prepare foods, how they work, and you can then take those techniques and blend them into other traditions to create something new, different, and exciting… and that inspires you to continue to create even more unique and flavorful dishes!”
“A chef doesn’t have to be an artist… but to really achieve your own style or mark in the culinary world, you have to view it as your own artistic expression.”
You can enjoy the artistic expression of Chef Scott at your own table just by visiting “Highball & Harvest” at Orlando’s Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes… and partake in his life mantra: Live, Eat, Breathe, Cook! Namaste!
Produced by: Irina Pabis
Photo/Video by: Richard Pabis
Written by: David Morizot