Hell’s Kitchen Season 12 winner Chef Scott Commings always worked in restaurants growing up, but never thought he’d be cooking for thousands in Las Vegas. Now the head chef at Freedom Beat in the Downtown Grand, Chef Commings discusses his experience on the show and his passion for cooking dishes from all around the country.
Did being raised in Wisconsin have an influence on you as a chef?
Yes, it did. In Wisconsin we were surrounded by some of the best farmers, the best cheesemakers and best brewers in the world. I grew up on a farm and we grew all our own vegetables, and having the appreciation for the great ingredients, where they come from and who’s growing them has been a real driving force behind what I love to do.
Did you always want to become a chef?
No, but I’ve always worked in restaurants since I was 13 years old. I went to college to be a math teacher at the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire. I made it through about three-fourths of the program and realized it wasn’t for me and went to culinary school. After culinary school I moved to Valparaiso, Indiana because a friend of mine’s uncle owned a restaurant there. So I worked with them in an internship and they offered me a job to stay as long as I went to school. I finished my degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management at Purdue University.
What was your cooking journey like between school and Hell’s Kitchen?
After finishing Purdue I continued my education at The Strongbow Inn in Valparaiso Indiana, with Russ and Nancy Adams, owners and operators of a third generation restaurant and conference center. They are truly the ones that helped me learn the true meaning of integrity in this business. After I left there I took a chef position in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It was during that time that I truly gained my passion for great local cuisine. I continued my approach to simple food with an emphasis on sourcing the best ingredients and visiting many farms, cheesemakers and brewers. After a stint as a general manager of a local country club, Loyola University caught my attention. Their project was to open a sustainable campus with the attention on growing our own food and creating education for not only the students and faculty, but also the community. During this time we created a five-acre organic garden to provide and contribute to our food system. We also designed a vegetable processing kitchen that allowed us to preserve our harvest and showcase through classes and educational programs the idea of sustainability.
Can you talk a little about Wholesome Grains Bread and how you got interested in baking?
While working with Loyola University, the whole idea of the program was to do everything ourselves and that included baking our own bread daily. During that time I truly gained a passion for baking bread, real bread, Old-world bread, all naturally fermented from a yeast culture I had been cultivating for years. It was only from that passion for baking and bread that I truly wanted to take it to the next level. So I did what any man would do, upset my wife, cut a large hole in the garage and built myself a wood oven using the direction from Alan Scott, one of the most prolific bread bakers and oven builders. So there it began, Wholesome Grains. A true bakery built brick by brick using nothing but Old-world techniques. More fun than you can imagine, and my oven; if I am too far away from her I miss her a lot.
How did you get involved with Freedom Beat and how did you create the menu?
Freedom Beat was the brain child of 34th Floor Hospitality, with their crew of multi-talented restaurant and hospitality professionals. I was very intrigued by their vision and the Downtown Grand team, so I couldn’t help but be involved. I worked with them on their concept on the food side. It was a fun project because I got to put everything from East Coast to West Coast, to some great food from the South and some great Midwest dishes. This restaurant is truly Americana. Enjoying great food from all different places is what the passion of Freedom Beat is.
What did you learn about being a chef from being on Hell’s Kitchen?
It was a unique opportunity for me to do something different and I’m so thankful for it. I would have never come out to Vegas and seen Vegas for what it really is. It was a phenomenal experience all the way around. I think as a chef you never stop learning. Every day is different and every day we have to adapt to different situations and every day we find new ways to do things. Especially on the show the whole experience was to adapt to a crazy situation at all times. Even though what we go through is amplified on the show, some days it’s not that different than what we go through in a regular restaurant. I’ve always been a fan of all the Food Network shows because they bring food and what we do to light.