Growing up in a family interested in food was the starting point for Scott Vivian’s journey as a chef. His family cooked frequently and instilled a love of food in him as a child. He says, “My parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents are all amazing cooks and food has always been a very important part of our lives. Coming from a mixed Italian-Indian background, I guess you would kind of expect that.“
Canadian Chef Profiles: Scott Vivian, Beast, Toronto ON
Chef Scott Vivian combines unique, locally sourced and sustainable cuts of meat with a wide variety of locally sourced produce to create innovative dishes at Beast in Toronto.
Chef Scott Vivian
The biggest early influences on Vivian as a chef were his mother and grandmother. He says, “[They were] both, such amazing cooks, they really showed me growing up how important and gratifying it is to cook for someone and watch their happiness when eating good food.”
In terms of his professional career, Vivian mentions Chefs Tommy Habetz and Gabriel Rucker at Gotham Building Tavern in Portland, Oregon. It was the first kitchen he’d worked in with a team made up of equally talented cooks. It was also the first kitchen that Vivian had worked in where the quality of the ingredients was given pride of place.
Later on, Chef Jamie Kennedy and his chef de cuisine Tobey Nemeth were important influences on Vivian. They taught him the "importance of being a chef who treated their staff with respect. It was by far the most healthy working environment I've ever been a part of.”
Right now, Vivian’s approach to food starts with using the best ingredients he can get from sustainable farms across Ontario. He adds that he wants to respect his patrons by offering them a wide variety of quality ingredients to which they might not have access.
The first step in conceptualizing a dish for Vivian is thinking about how to present something familiar in a “fun and whimsical way.” His next step is to take a less-known and used cut of meat that would make a flavourful addition to the dish. After that he says, “Balance is very important, so I see where I need to add ingredients with acid and texture in order to layer a mouthful that is enjoyable in each bite.”
Breakfast sandwich- pork belly, pickled onions, iceberg lettuce, fried egg, Kozlik's sweet and smoky mustard
Challah French toast- duck confit, cranberry mostarda, whipped creme fraiche, maple syrup
Another aspect of Vivian’s approach to creating a new dish is ensuring that he can source most of the ingredients for it in Ontario. He adds, “If I'm not able to get something specific in Ontario, then I see if it's available to me from other provinces in Canada. If it's not available anywhere in Canada, then I figure out if that ingredient is important for the dish and if it is, what can I replace it with that is Canadian.”
The start of many of Vivian’s relationships with his suppliers came while he was working for Jamie Kennedy’s organization. He continued in his support of those suppliers when he opened Beast. He’s had new suppliers come on board over the years and he says, “At some point you build a reputation in the business and you have suppliers with a product that they think you’d be interested in and they want to work with you. It’s just a matter of getting to know them, what their philosophies are and how they run their businesses.”
Respecting his staff is an important for Vivian. He explains that, although it’s a cliché, he won’t ask anyone to do something that he wouldn’t do himself. Vivian tries to lead by example and says, “I ask my employees to work very hard for us because I think we all understand what we need to do to ensure the restaurant runs properly. I am willing to get in the trenches with them and they see that. It doesn’t give anybody the feeling that they’re working hard while I’m not pulling my weight.”
Gnocchi "poutine"- deep fried gnocchi, hunter's ragu, cheese curds, creme fraiche, green onions
Crispy pork hocks- kecap manis, house kimchi, roasted peanuts, scallions
He adds that he doesn’t treat his team like mere employees. He says, “To me, they’re all family, it’s a small restaurant and everyone’s close. I understand that they’re a person and they have a life outside of work. I also want to ensure that they’re financially comfortable. It’s how I’d want to be treated if I was in their place.”
Loyalty and passion trump experience when Vivian brings someone new onto the team. Aside from ensuring that they buy into his approach to food, Vivian wants to know that they’re willing to put in maximum effort for the restaurant. He adds, “I don’t want to hire somebody just because they need a job. I want people to come in and feel like they’re getting a sense of accomplishment and that they’re proud to work for us and for the team.”
Inspiration comes in many guises for Vivian. One of his current inspirations is his chef de cuisine at Beast. Vivian explains, “He’s young and extremely talented. He has an amazing work ethic but he has a great passion for cooking and the restaurant business. I talk to him about food and feed off of his energy.”
Vivian says, since he’s reached the highest position in the kitchen as a chef, he now looks to his cooks and his team for inspiration as opposed to younger cooks who look up to their chefs. Vivian been a guest chef in many kitchens across the continent but one experience stood out especially for him. He says, “I was able to cook at Indie Chef’s Week in Austin, Texas. I do find a lot of inspiration from top chefs in the industry and cookbooks but this was an opportunity to go and cook with so many cooks around North America who have the same kind of ideology as we do at Beast. It really helped me to stay motivated.”
This profile is based on interviews conducted via telephone and e-mail with Scott Vivian on Nov. 23, 2015.