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The Chosen Ones: An Interview With Scott Feldman

The celebrity chef super-manager on starting from the bottom, great restaurants, and why he’s a ‘glutton’ for jarred gefilte fish

Periel Aschenbrand
June 26, 2017
Image courtesy of the author; Illustration by Tablet magazine.
Image courtesy of the author; Illustration by Tablet magazine.
Image courtesy of the author; Illustration by Tablet magazine.
Image courtesy of the author; Illustration by Tablet magazine.

There are so many cooking shows now—ones featuring celebrity chefs, iron chefs, dessert chefs, top chefs, test kitchens, chef’s lives, chef’s minds, $13-dollar Anthony Bourdain chocolate bars at William and Sonoma, Mario Battali knife sets, actual food porn, Martha Stewart and Snoop on a cooking show together (genius)… and the list goes on. And on. And on.

It seems the food and beverage industry—or F&B as they call it in the biz—has gone absolutely bananas. And in this stainless steel jungle, there is a Jew. He is Scott Feldman and he is unequivocally known as a “powerhouse”—the “Uber manager” to chefs who have become celebrities in their own right.

I met him at his “office away from his office”—an Italian eatery called Barbuto—which also happens to be where Top Chef Jonathan Waxman operates.

Feldman had just flown in on a helicopter from the Hamptons to meet me. Not bad for a Jewish kid from Roslyn, Long Island, who started out sweeping the floors of his dad’s bar.

Periel Aschenbrand: The New York Post once called you the “Ari Gold of the restaurant industry.” Did you always have a passion for this world?

Scott Feldman: Yeah. I grew up with parents who cooked and we ate out a lot and my father dabbled in the industry. But the real go at it was when my father—who sold motorcycles for 18 years, which was not the typical Jewish thing to do in Roslyn—acquired an Irish tavern called McDimple’s because his mechanics were selling more motorcycles in the bars than they were in the showroom.

In the industry, I’m affectionately known as Scotty O’ or Scotty O’Feldman. Again, not exactly a Jewish mother’s dream for her daughter. But I love the industry. I pulled my first pint when I was 9, sweeping the floors at McDimples. My senior year, we all went to dinner the night of our graduation and there was a blackout in the restaurant and the waiter and the owner said, “Don’t worry about it. Anything you want, we’ll get you.” And they went to the restaurant next door and got us basically everything we wanted and I looked at my parents and I told them that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in the hospitality business, I wanted to be able to accommodate everybody’s asks and really make, an evening, at that point, come true. And so it has definitely fostered my career, now through representation, but even before when I was an executive at American Express—I managed the restaurant and entertainment portfolio for them. Everything, at the core, was hospitality.

PA: Is it because you have this deep love for making people happy?

SF: It’s making people happy but it’s also a desire to create—atmosphere, occasions, experiences or someone’s happiness in a moment. If I fail at representation, I can always be a maître d’.

PA: I feel like you have this very unique and particular personality that is very suited to this.

SF: I have a friend named Kevin Law who would say that I have this odd charisma that allows— even as a short, Jewish balding guy—people to be enamored by our conversations and be taken in by my personality.

PA: That’s pretty Jewish.

SF: It is. Most of my mentors in my life, whether they were Jewish or not, mensch is a word I would use for all of them. Danny Meyer and Steve Hanson are two of my biggest mentors in the restaurant business. Literally gave of themselves to give me my time to shine. When I was 23-years-old, when you could still smoke in a restaurant, a bunch of us were sitting around with Joe Baum—the restaurateur and visionary responsible for The Four Seasons Restaurant, Windows on the World, the new Rainbow Room—and he was smoking a cigarette. I was still with American Express and I was selling them some stupid program.

So in the middle of the meal they brought us an intermezzo and sorbet and Danny Meyer said to Joe Baum, “How do they keep it so cold?” And Joe took his cigarette out of his mouth, looked at Danny Meyer and said, “Ice.”

PA: Haha!

SF: Back to the Ari Gold question. I think part of the reason I’ve been able to be successful is that we took on a management perspective. I started Two Twelve Management not just based on the desire to represent talent, but I really did it to be able to create brands and worlds for people who were in this totally different discipline.

PA: You represent some of the biggest names in the industry.

SF: We do. Ninety-nine percent of who we represent are restaurateurs and business people first; the entertainment and media world came second to them. In its simplest form, it was about taking the star and celebrity of a chef and taking it outside of the four walls.

PA: You were really kind of visionary. All of these things that exist now, Chef’s Table and Chopped and these shows about women in Montana cooking, God knows what else… None of that ever existed.

SF: We were the first of the managers.

PA: Is it because you were so intimately involved that you knew these guys were stars?

SF: I think so. At some point I saw there was an opportunity to “represent them” in a forum where we could build their brand.

PA: And what are some of the most exciting moments you’ve seen? Other than taking a helicopter here to meet me.

SF: I think Michael Symon out of Cleveland, who is now on The Chew, is one of the prominent chefs in the industry. He’s the biggest thing to happen to Cleveland other than LeBron James. He was the first client I signed and he’s been with us the entire time. He’s one of my dear friends. And the fact that we’re still best friends and he’s still a client really means a lot to me.

PA: Because of the mensch thing?

SF: Some of it is. Listen. I try to run the company based on relationships and a familial feel rather than on some corporate level. Geoffrey Zakarian is another very significant talent. Marc Murphy. Anne Burell is another one. And that’s great to see because female chefs are not as represented as they should be.

PA: Because you’re also a feminist.

SF: I am.

PA: That’s the right answer. And are there are a few gems you’d like to share with us?

SF: I try not to only because they are clients or friends.

PA: Well who else would you recommend?

SF: Mainly I will say this: Michael Symon will tell you that I’m not a foodie and he probably wouldn’t admit that I know anything about food, but I’m a holistic kind of restaurant guy—so Barbuto. Red Cat. Red Cat in Chelsea was actually the first restaurant I was supposed to be an investor in but I went to Puerto Rico and lost all my money in a casino and had to call [Red Cat chef] Jimmy Bradley and tell him I couldn’t invest.

PA: Amazing.

SF: But it became my date place because I knew everyone so well they would either come over and sort of make me look important or know when to stay away. It’s where I took my wife on my first date. I like Carbone. Chef Joey Campanaro at The Clam. Transparently, I’m a partner. I think he’s one of the greatest small hospitality guys in the business. Danny Meyer is a mentor, still to this day. I love Maialino, I love Gramercy Tavern. There are a lot others.

PA: I’m sure there are, it’s a good start though. Speaking of great food— have you been to Israel?

SF: I have not. My sister tells a story that when I was senior she offered to take me and I said that I’d rather spend the summer with my friends. I don’t believe her nor do I think that I happened but also, I think it’s possible I could have been that stupid.

PA: Ha. Who are some Israeli chefs to speak of?

SF: Michael Solomonov. Israeli cultural influence has become a very big part of the industry over the past three, four years. There’s a restaurant in Miami called 27 which is spectacular. The owners happen to be mixologists but they are incredible visionaries for Israeli food, as well.

PA: I have kind of an issue with “mixology,” but that’s a different article. What’s your favorite drink?

SF: Mezcal Negroni, on the rocks, not too sweet.

PA: How do you eat your eggs?

SF: Poached.

PA: How do you drink your coffee?

SF: Triple Iced Decaf Espresso. I stopped drinking real coffee about eight years ago. I used to drink probably like nine double espressos a day.

PA: Favorite Jewish holiday?

SF: Passover.

PA: Did you have a bar mitzvah?

SF: I did.

PA: What did you wear?

SF: I rocked a three-piece suit.

PA: Of course you did. What shampoo do you use?

SF: I mean. A little. But Bumble and Bumble. All about making sure as little as I have stands out.

PA: Gefilte fish or lox?

SF: Even call, but gefilte fish.

PA: OK, so where’s the best gefilte fish?

SF: So here’s the bad part, I am a jarred gefilte fish guy. With the jelly. Horseradish white or red. And I am a glutton for it.

PA: That. Is. So. Disgusting. Five things in your bag right now?

SF: Ready?

PA: Born ready.

SF: A pocket square, a watch, my wedding ring, my iPhone and now, after becoming 45, my glasses.

PA: You’re a pretty style-y guy, I’m assuming you have a favorite pair of shoes?

SF: Probably my old school Stan Smiths.

Periel Aschenbrand, a comedian at heart, is the author of On My Kneesand The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own.