Today, we’re kicking off a new feature on Daily Blender, with the inaugural Quick Spin – a series of condensed Q&As with food and drink folks kicking ass across the country, including restaurateurs, chefs, bartenders, vintners, distillers, farmers, producers, authors, and filmmakers.
I met chef Scott Popovic on my first visit to the Cayman Cookout in 2010. Scott and his always-effervescent colleague, Maggie O’Quinn, were absolutely delightful additions to an already spectacular food and wine weekend, and I was thrilled to see them both again on my visit to this year’s event. Based in the heartland of Cleveland, Ohio, Popovic oversees the culinary outreach of Certified Angus Beef, a division of the American Angus Association. He’s also one of my favorite “beef peeps”.
Q: What’s your role?
A: I’m the corporate chef of Certified Angus Beef, so I travel around and talk to consumers and chefs about the product, about high quality angus genetics, on behalf of the ranchers and farmers that produce the product.
Q: So are you creating recipes?
A: I do a lot of different things – create recipes, participate in events like the Cayman Cookout where I’m working with other chefs, talking about the product and explaining what the benefits are. Ultimately, I report to a Board of Directors that are all ranchers, so we’re here to help them. We’re a non-profit company, which really surprises people because you don’t really think of a brand of beef as being a non-profit. We’re not trying to make a buck – at the end of the day, we’re here to help everyone in the industry increase sales, from the retailers and restaurateurs to the distributors, all the way back to the farmers and ranchers.
Q: And your background? How did you end up as ‘beef peep’?
A: (laughter) Well, I am a chef by training. I went to Johnson & Wales and then spent three years cooking in South Carolina. I eventually moved back to my hometown of Cleveland, and worked at the Ritz-Carlton and Moxie before I headed to Vegas. I worked at Aureole under Charlie Palmer for a year, which was a great experience. I learned a lot, especially with his visions of modern American cuisine, taking into consideration how different cuisines affect the palate. I worked at N9NE in the Palms, and learned a lot about volume and how to quickly produce high quality product. I returned to Cleveland to be near family and took a job with my former mentor at Moxie, Doug Katz, when he opened Fire Food & Drink. I was there for a year before he said, “Scott, I love you, and you’re a phenomenal chef, but what are you doing?!” I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after that – I was thinking about teaching – but I knew I didn’t want to be in the restaurant kitchens anymore, working 100+ hours a week, not being home, the daily pressures. A good friend of mine told me that Certified Angus Beef was looking for a corporate chef, and I applied, and boom-bang, here I am! I’ve been with Certified Angus Beef for a little over five years now.
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve found in your role with Certified Angus Beef?
A: Really, just the education side. Unfortunately, we’ve kind of created our own competition. When we were started thirty years ago, there weren’t really any beef brands, and now there are over 100 brands of beef, over seventy of them with “angus” in the name. So it’s really just about explaining what sets us apart, the high quality of our product.
Q: What draws you back to the Cayman Cookout every year?
A: Well, aside from being in this beautiful, sunny place in the middle of January… (laughter)
The Cayman Cookout is a spectacular event. It’s very intimate. We do a lot of different events, from South Beach to New York Food & Wine, and they’re really, really big. The Cayman Cookout is more of a cozy event where you really get to know both the chefs and the guests. It’s our fourth year here as a sponsor, and even guests that live here on the island and only see me once a year remember me every year. It’s a great experience. The Caymanians are awesome. The staff here at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman are heads and tails above everyone else – they just do a phenomenal job.
Have suggestions for who you’d like to see in the Quick Spin? Leave your ideas in the comments below, or shoot us an email!
*Photo credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender