Friday, May 06, 2005 | The team that brought San Diego diners the Indigo Grill and Kemo Sabe are stepping away from the spices and toward the cooler atmosphere of Shelter Island this summer. The Cohns, a family-owned restaurant group behind nearly a dozen local eateries, and Deborah Scott are aiming to open the upscale seafood and steakhouse Island Prime/Sea Level Lounge at the beginning of June. Scott, the executive chef for each of the restaurants, recently took a few minutes to chat about seafood, salad and her love of all things spicy.

So how does the concept for Island Prime compare to Kemo Sabe and Indigo Grill?

It’s quite a bit different for me because this time I have a “chef de cuisine,” Josh McGinnis. And it’s such a large venue that with the other two restaurants, keeping charge of consistency and quality is a little difficult. The other two are a little more eclectic in nature, with more rustic fare; the new one has a more sophisticated, clean look; the Hatch Group of Orange County is doing the design for me. It’s definitely a different approach but I also look forward to doing something different, a little outside the realm of what I’m accustomed to.

Are chilies really your favorite ingredient?

They are in my other restaurants. In the new restaurant, the focus will be more on fresh fish and prime steaks of very good quality.

How did you get interested in cooking as a career?

To me it’s not just about cooking; I really love the whole feel of the restaurant business. That’s why I never really think I’d be satisfied just being in the kitchen: I love being in the front of the house, I love the people, I love the feel, I like the business aspect of it, I like designing restraints and being involved in daily construction, so it’s a lot more for me than just cooking – it’s the whole reality of the design, the development, bringing it all together and making it make sense. It’s the whole ballgame I’m interested in.

Where’s your favorite place to eat when you’re not working?

I have a wide range of restaurants. I’m more of a simple eater, and I like little things here and there, like going to Hamburger Mary’s and having wings and a salad, or going to Michael Stepner’s place, Region, and having his fresh vegetables, or going to the Hash House and having a Mexican quesadilla. There’s one thing I like at a lot of restaurants and I’ll go for that item. I love salad bars, I always love salad. I’ll go to Sizzler and have the salad bar.

Do you have any culinary pet peeves?

I don’t like things that look like too many people had their hands on it. Some foo-foo foods look like too many people have touched it before you put it in your mouth, or have too intricate a decoration. I don’t like it when people try to fuse flavors just for the sake of fusing flavors, when they don’t come out with a good, balanced composition, or when they try to overdo something for the sake of overdoing it.

What’s your favorite food rule to break?

I’m a big spice fan. A lot of times I’ll curb the spice for guests, but if I’m cooking for myself I like a lot of spice, a lot of heat. I’ve almost acclimated the guests to my style – it’s hard for me to get them to complain about the heat anymore. Even older guests that you expect to say, “This is too hot,” they just rave about it. So chefs kind of educate guests that way, because we can present something that maybe in the past they wouldn’t touch. But after awhile they get to liking it, so chefs play a big role in opening guests’ horizons to what they do and don’t like.

– SIMONE FINNEY, Voice Contributing Writer

Simone Finney, a senior at Point Loma University, is editor of the college newspaper.

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