From 17-years-old, Sarah Scott has been thriving in the fast-paced world of high-end restaurants.
Now, at 28, her skill as a chef has not gone unnoticed at steakhouse chain El Gaucho. She was recently named in Zagat’s top 30-under-30 chefs in central Puget Sound for her work at the Bellevue location.
Zagat, a national restaurant survey company, singled out Scott for her creativity, hard work and desire to add more “global flavors” to her repertoire.
“It was a complete and total shock,” she said. “I let out a loud, long squeal when I found out and just did a happy dance.”
Scott, executive chef at El Gaucho, reached the lofty position after working at the steakhouse since it opened in 2008. The chain also has locations in Tacoma, Portland and two in Seattle.
Despite her talent and work ethic, Scott hasn’t had the easiest road to get to where she is. The Winter Park, Florida native first worked as a pantry chef at a steakhouse in nearby Orlando to help pay for college.
She was going to school for hospitality management, an occupation which was a little-too focused on the “front of the house” for her liking, but which gave her valuable skills she uses every day.
“Right off the bat, we learned financial accounting, product costs, labor, everything I need to know now,” Scott said. “I took an intro to hospitality management class and learned then about guest satisfaction. We never call them customers, only guests.”
In the dimly-lit, throwback elegance of El Gaucho, guests are treated to juicy steaks, a burgeoning Asian-inspired menu and a ridiculous wine and spirits list.
But before she was able to run her own kitchen, Scott had to fight for a spot to begin with. In many high-end restaurants, men still dominate.
“At the restaurant I was a pantry cook at, I called the owner and applied to a position on the line,” Scott said. “The owner was confused. She told me a woman had never worked on the line before.”
While she did get a job as a line cook, the attitude towards women in professional kitchens lit a fire. A trip to Seattle a few years previously let Scott know she would thrive in the Northwest, with its fun ingredients and creative culinary culture. She left Florida for Washington, and has used Seattle’s unique connection to Asia to improve her own skills and dazzle with new ingredients.
When El Gaucho began hiring for its brand new Bellevue location in 2008, Scott knew she was getting in on the ground level of something big. She worked her way up from the saute and broiler stations to eventually become executive chef in 2014 and subsequently became one of the youngest executive chefs at a high-end steakhouse in the nation, and one of a very few female ones.
Scott, called “Sarita” by her fellow chefs, has been a magnet for other female chefs, and she has talented women working under her in the kitchen, notable in an industry still heavily reliant on men.
“It’s just something that comes along with the business,” she said. “But it still feels pretty good to carry a 100-pound bag of rice by myself without relying on anybody else.”
Scott has been experimenting with Thai food at home, but admits that she will go to a farmer’s market, see an interesting ingredient and craft a meal around it. El Gaucho will soon see more of an Asian influence.
“I leave in a little over a week to go to Tokyo,” she said. “I’ll be heading right to a three Michelin star restaurant and will just keep eating from there.”
A friend and colleague, Taichi Kitamura, had to make the reservation for her. Kitamura, executive chef at Seattle’s Sushi Kappo Tamura, grew up in Kyoto and gave Scott the skinny on the best spots in his native Japan.
“I’m excited to see Japanese cuisine at its core,” Scott said. “[Kitamura] told me his favorite ramen places, and I’ll be hitting those up.”
As for aspiring chefs out there, she said a simple fix is right in front of you.
“Use lots of fat,” Scott said. “Never be afraid to add butter and buy fatty cuts of steak. My roommates would buy chuck cuts and when I cooked them ribeye they were blown away. Buy the right product!”