At 35 years old, Chris Scott is already in his 35th residence. After spending part of his childhood in Chile, Scott has voluntarily bounced around the United States, living everywhere from San Diego to Nashville and Milwaukee to Dallas. Exhilarated by these experiences, he believes that this nomadic lifestyle has elevated his culinary techniques.
“I’ve tasted and cooked with all sorts of flavors, textures and ingredients—whether it’s scrapple in the Northeast, corn in Illinois or peaches in Colorado—and added each one to my ‘tool box’,” said Scott, who now lives in Baltimore.
Scott worked at Brinker International and Wendy’s before joining the Freshly team as a Culinary Development Chef in April 2018. We caught up with him at our Maryland facility and chatted about music he listens to in the kitchen, steps he takes to stay physically and mentally healthy, and the Coconut Green-Curry sauce that took him six months to perfect:
Q: What is your favorite childhood memory about food?
A: I was somewhere between 3 and 6 years old, and my family and another were on vacation in Chile, heading from Santiago to La Serena. We were making pit stops at gas stations to eat, while driving along the coast, when one of the adults ordered squid cooked in its own ink and made all the kids try it. While everybody else was making faces, I ended up polishing off nearly the entire meal. That was the first time I realized that food can be amazing—it doesn’t just need to be something we eat.
Q: Growing up, what was a staple in your kitchen?
A: Chicken. My mom was always trying to make sure that we ate healthy, and boneless, skinless chicken breast, which can be prepared a million different ways, was a great way to do that.
Q: As a chef, what’s something you always keep on hand in your pantry?
A: I love spicy food, and I’m drawn most to Asian flavors so I’d have to say Gochujang, a fermented red chili paste that’s originally from Korea and has a really nice taste that’s all at once sweet, savory, and spicy. Similar to how a lot of people add sriracha to everything, I create Gochujang-infused mayonnaise, ketchup and vinaigrette, and use it to cook eggs, make kimchi, and season meats, seafood, and vegetables.
Q: What’s your go-to meal?
A: Ramen. If I could eat ramen for every single meal, I’d be a happy camper. It has a really nice, rich broth and the noodles, being alkaline, are firmer and have more of a bite. There’s hot, cold, and even spicy ramen. It’s such an open palette—allowing you express yourself by including different kinds of noodles, vegetables, meat, and flavors.
Q: What are the worst and best tasting dishes you’ve created?
A: My failures far surpass my successes, and that’s just part of the process of learning and growing as a chef. I remember curdling sauces and tasting them before realizing what I’d done—those were god-awful experiences!
A dish I’m really proud of is Freshly’s Wild-Caught Mahi with Romesco Sauce. It struck a chord with our customers and is one of my favorite preparations. It hits on every level: We have a really indulgent-tasting and nutrient-dense sauce with roasted red peppers, almonds, tomatoes, vinegar, and spices; beautiful vegetables with the zucchini hash; and a hearty, but tender fish fillet that stays moist even after being microwaved. That meal was a big win for us as a team..
Q: What do you think are the most overrated and underrated ingredients respectively?
A: Traditional butter is definitely overrated. When cooking at home, I prefer using a variety of oils, including walnut oil or a blend of different nut oils, that pack a punch of flavor.
Underrated, I’d say noodles. They are a big part of Asian and Italian cuisines but I think it’s underrated in that people just assume they are limited to lo mein or spaghetti, so we haven’t explored noodles too much. You don’t have to eat traditional high-carb noodles—they can be made out of pretty much anything and are easy to pair with a variety of ingredients and flavors. Case in point: Freshly’s gluten- and grain-free Cauliflower Shell Bolognese.
Q: Do you listen to music while cooking?
A: I’m a strong believer in listening to music at any time of day and I listen to a little bit of everything, although I tend to like louder, more rambunctious tunes while cooking. Some of my favorites include Johnny Cash, Sex Pistols, Gorillaz, Outkast, MF Doom, Atmosphere, Del the Funky Homosapien, J Dilla, Greta Van Fleet, and many, many more.
Q: How do you spend your time outside the kitchen?
A: Music is a huge part of my life. I’ve played many instruments, like the guitar, trumpet and violin, over the years—none of them amazingly, but that’s something I enjoy. I’m a big fan of art so I like going to museums and drawing graffiti on sketch pads. Oh, and I have a shoe problem. I own somewhere between 75 and 100 pairs of Adidas at this point—even my kitchen shoes are made by them—so everyone around here knows I’m going to judge their shoe choices!
Q: What prompted your interest in Freshly while you were working at Wendy’s?
A: Wendy’s does very innovative work: I ran their Culinary Innovation Center and worked on blue-sky projects for culinary development so those projects could take anywhere from two to 20 years. It would have taken me a decade at Wendy’s to launch as many meals as we have at Freshly.
Ultimately, though, I studied culinary nutrition because I wanted to work with healthy foods and at a company where I could push boundaries and make a more immediate and positive impact on people’s lives. So this role is a dream come true: Working with an exceptional team of chefs, food scientists, and nutritionists who get to play with food all day and create meals that not only taste great but are also helping people live a healthier life.
Q: What’s your favorite Freshly meal and why?
A: The Country Chicken and Mash Bowl. When you hear about it and read the description, it sounds so indulgent; and when you taste it, it delivers on that indulgence. It has these amazing ingredients like cauliflower-potato mash blend, corn, and oven-fried chicken, which tastes like fried food but is actually breaded in 100% cassava flour and baked. It’s fantastic when you’re not weighed down by a meal that you’d think is extremely unhealthy.
Q: What is the story behind Freshly’s Coconut-Green Curry?
A: I pounded my head against the wall for at least six months with that meal, going through roughly 50 iterations from ideation to execution. Sometimes, it was an immediate “Nope, that’s not going to work” so I didn’t even bother recording the ingredients or recipe. Other times, I’d get up to 20-plus ingredients and realize that I wasn’t even halfway through so it wasn’t going to be possible from an operational standpoint. The issue lay in trying to deliver flavor that we want and our customers expect while ensuring that the meal is prepared with only high-quality ingredients.
I think everybody got frustrated of hearing me talk about it, and, honestly, the only reason it turned out as great as it did is because we have an amazing team and they allowed me to bounce ideas off them constantly. Chef Craig Emmons was a huge help and advised me to “stop thinking and go cook.” Looking at both the chicken and veggie meals now, I’m thrilled that we were able to deliver such a high amount of flavor and authenticity while living up to the nutrition standards that Freshly is known for.
Q: What’s an easy healthy eating hack?
A: I avoid dumping tons of salt in my food by using small amounts of any type of citric acid, like lemon juice, or something that’s spicy, like cayenne pepper. These ingredients have a similar effect on our taste buds as salt, making food taste good, but without the extra sodium.
Q: Is eating healthy something you prioritize in your personal life?
A: Definitely. I don’t like limiting, restrictive diets—there’s no way to sustain them. Instead, I believe in changing lifestyles and having a holistic approach to being healthy. You are what you eat—nourish your body and you’re going to feel better. And being healthy in all aspects of my life also means prioritizing my mental wellbeing.
Q: Why do you find it important to stay mentally healthy and what steps do you take to that end?
A: A kitchen is fast paced—you’ve got extreme highs and lows, and you can get addicted to working like that and thinking that it’s normal to constantly be exhausted. That, combined with the fact that bars are really all that’s open when you get off work—still riding an adrenaline high—at 2 a.m. creates a breeding ground for drug and alcohol abuse.
Anthony Bourdain, who was a big influence on a lot of young chefs, myself included, is famous for putting his addiction issues out there for the world to see. His death was a huge loss to the culinary world, and I’m sure his friends and family. So I make sure to prioritize my mental health: I take a vacation, making sure to rest and recharge, if I feel like I’m on the verge of burnout; I talk to people and even play puzzle games to keep my mind sharp.
Freshly recognizes that we all need to take breaks and should not be working 120 hours a week. We all work extremely hard, but we also get plenty of time off, room to be creative, and a normal schedule. I appreciate the efforts to ensure we stay not only physically, but also mentally healthy.