Overseeing the restaurant’s continuous schedule requires someone with passion and focus. Costa Brava serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch to delighted guests and locals amid one of St. Augustine’s finest hotels – the Casa Monica Resort & Spa. It can be a grueling enterprise, but Chef Scott Ostrander takes it all in stride, with a smile on his face.
After graduating top of his class from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Chef Scott trained under top chefs across the country from Roy Yamaguchi on the islands of Hawaii to Chef Christopher Brooks in Alexandria, Virginia. It was here that his team won the prestigious Distinguished Restaurants of North American Award from Wine Spectator.
Following the award, he was recruited to Savannah, Georgia, where he spent four years building a locally-sourced menu from the ground up. He created relationships with farmers, ranchers, and fishermen from Alabama all the way to South Carolina, soon bringing his understanding of Southeastern cuisine to Mama’s Boy Southern Table & Refuge in South Norwalk, Connecticut. He was later featured on the Cooking Channel’s nationally-televised show, Road Trip with G. Garvin.
Chef Scott joined The Kessler Collection team in 2014 as Executive Chef of Red Stag Grill, located inside the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, bringing his passion for locally-grown products and Southern-style cuisine to the award-winning restaurant. After five years of success, he introduced his unique brand of creativity to Casa Monica Resort & Spa’s Costa Brava, where he continues to craft imaginative dishes for his guests to enjoy while staying closely in touch with his farm-to-table roots. He calls out Morrison Tomato Farm as one of his favorite local producers. “Sheldon grows a mean tomato, and a few varieties of okra too,” says Chef Scott. “It is also wonderful to have such a small, artisanal rice producer like Congaree and Penn so close. We enjoy having Dog Rose Brewing as our neighbor just down the street and, of course, St. Augustine Distillery. Phillip and his family are great partners, and we do a lot in conjunction with them.”
Today in the kitchen at Costa Brava, Chef Scott is focused on trying to establish a sense of place that even a visiting palate can easily recognize. Melding the Spanish history of St. Augustine and the hotel’s Spanish/Moorish architecture and design with ingredients found along the North Florida coast is key to this synergy. Chef Scott does it with unique aplomb that combines the history of St. Augustine with the specific ingredients available locally.
Growing up on the edge of his grandfather’s farm in the Hudson Valley of New York, his grandparents were first generation Italian-American and brought much of the Old World influence when it came to food. In fact, his first culinary memory was making fresh pasta and ravioli in his grandmother’s kitchen when he was just four or five years old. As he grew, culinary culture involved large family gatherings with more food than an army could eat. He learned to cook southern Italian food from this early age, but to this day, has never cooked Italian in a professional setting.
He realized that he wanted to be a chef while in engineering school, cooking on the side for extra money. One day, he noticed that he only enjoyed being at work in the kitchen and decided to make the shift. Influentially, he notes the impact of travel on his craft. “I’ve had the opportunity to live and work around the country and experience ingredients and cuisines that I would have otherwise never seen.”
His largest personal culinary influence in the kitchen is Thomas Keller. “Coming out of the same culinary school right as the French Laundry was hitting its peak, a lot of what I continue to base my cooking on was shaped by what he was doing at the time and I can say, in many ways, still does.”
As for his management style, Chef Scott tries to lead by example. He doesn’t ask someone to do something that they would not see him doing himself. His mantra for himself and his staff is to invest in great products and do only what must be done to highlight them. Essentially – letting the items speak for themselves. Bringing innovation to the kitchen, the chef and his team are currently working on a number of house-made charcuterie items that they plan to debut in the new year.
He brings attention to his AM steward, Steffon, who literally will do anything he is asked. “During a time when we were short staffed, he learned to cook breakfast so he could jump on the line and help when it got really busy. Now he spends part of most of his mornings working breakfast.”
Chef’s own refrigerator at home is well stocked. Currently, his wife is working towards her master’s in dietetics, so she makes it her mission to fill it with an array of healthy choices. “If it was just me, it would probably just have some leftover pizza and hot sauce,” he jokes.
During the rare times that he is outside of the kitchen, Scott can be found working on his two vintage Corvettes in advance of the next car show. He also enjoys hitting the gym and surfing when time allows.
At home, Chef Scott tries to cook once a week – either jambalaya or Thai curry. He is more of a snacker than a sit down for a full meal type of eater, himself. Among his favorite chefs in the area, he counts Matt Brown at Collage, Michael Lugo at Michael’s, Genie at The Floridian, and Nils at Crème de Cocoa, saying, “All of them are trying to push the St. Augustine food scene forward, which is good for all of us. We are definitely more than a tourist food town and it is becoming evident within the industry as well as regionally.”
Costa Brava is located at 95 Cordova Street. Learn more about them online at www.kesslercollection.com/casa-monica. Photography by Kate Gardiner.