Executive Chef Deborah Scott thrives on the chaos and unpredictability of her field. “I like the turmoil,” she says, “the not knowing what’s going to happen.” Her zeal for the unexpected is evident in each plate she creates, amazing diners with the elaborate visual displays and flavorful improvisations. Her successful conveyance of surprise from kitchen to table is evident at her Little Italy restaurant, Indigo Grill, where the dining room is filled with the sound of sharp intakes of breath and murmurs of excitement at each statuesque culinary feat that enters the room. While Chef Scott revels in the thrill of her kitchen’s chaos, her culinary translation of this energy is anything but haphazard. Her dishes instead reflect the calming balance of expert precision, predicated on the achievement of an intricate equilibrium of flavors, textures, colors, and, most notably, between the unexpected and the approachable. It is through this careful negotiation of near-legerdemain theatricality and gratifying accessibility that Chef Deborah Scott achieves her main focus: pleasing her customers to their fullest.
Experimentation plays a key role in Chef Scott’s process. Her culinary background draws from a diverse mix of cultures and experiences: her extensive cooking credentials span the United States and dip into international continental regions. Distinguishing herself both at Baltimore International Culinary College and the Culinary Institute of America’s graduate program, Chef Scott has continued to feed her epicurean curiosity by studying Oaxacan cuisine in Mexico and exploring the indigenous flavors of the Americas. Her flair for the exotic has motivated her to introduce unconventional ingredients into her Indigo Grill menu: she has used huitlacoche, a corn fungus with a truffle-like flavor used in traditional Mexican cuisine, in a variety of dishes and has even toasted and ground chapulines, a traditional Oaxacan snack of crickets, to create a Chapuline Flatbread for a past menu incarnation. Despite the peculiarity and rarity of such ingredients, Chef Scott’s cuisine is highly approachable, and devoid of intimidation. She deftly transforms the unfamiliar and the daunting into the most accessible, and crowd-pleasing creations, thereby expanding the palates of the countless San Diego diners that flock to her restaurants.
It is this emphasis on the experience of her guests that shapes Chef Scott’s culinary philosophy. Despite the evident artistry and innovation of her dishes and process, she never forgets her audience. While “some chefs lose sight of the fact that [they] are in the hospitality business,” Chef Scott states that her priority is “pleasing the customer.” She makes a point of visiting each of her restaurants nightly, and spending time in each dining room to ensure that her customers are receiving the quality of experience she has created specifically with them in mind, an experience hand-crafted herself; not only is the Indigo Grill completely her creation, but the décor, and even the logo were all the product of Chef Scott’s inspired mind. The loving care she has devoted to the creation of each of her restaurants is all motivated by her commitment to her customers; each restaurant quietly and humbly asserts its uniqueness without making grandiose and potentially exclusionary statements. For example, while the aesthetic of Indigo Grill borrows from a variety of cultures, it is done respectfully. Thus, while Chef Scott may enjoy playing with unusual ingredients and design elements to transform the typical dining experience into a work of art, she by no means harbors the stereotypic artist’s ego.
Chef Deborah Scott has clearly made a deep impression on San Diego’s dining culture. Indigo Grill, Kemo Sabe, and Island Prime are some of San Diego’s most popular restaurants, with each earning their own shares of local and national acclaim. Indigo Grill, for example, has won Gold Medallion Awards in 2007 and 2008 for the Best Ethnic category, and was featured on January 26, 2009 on the Today Show’s “Streetside Moments.” Despite the considerable prestige she has received, a notion of family is at the heart of her career. While she strives to create a memorable and unique experience for her diners, one that cannot be easily replicated or outdone, it is the deep familial sense of comfort and satisfaction that she seeks to instill in her customers. Her culinary influence literally extends into the homes of numerous San Diegans each Thanksgiving, when countless families special order her Indian Corn Pudding or Roasted Butternut Squash Soup from Indigo Grill for festive and zesty additions to their home-cooked meals. She cites her own family as her priority above all else: “I value my time with my family, my animals; it is very important and special to me.” Under Chef Deborah Scott’s capable hand, an Indigo Grill experience manages to make the exotic and the unexpected as welcoming as a dinner with family and friends.