Restaurateur Chris Cannon has rebounded quite nicely from his public split with former chef Scott Conant, though he readily admitted, “It was kind of a cold war for a while.”
On Friday, May 1, the 48-year-old operator of acclaimed midtown eateries Alto and Convivio will debut his latest effort, Marea, an Italian-style seafood spot in the former San Domenico space at 240 Central Park South, with a splashy party benefiting the charity Citymeals on Wheels.
The new restaurant, outfitted from floor to ceiling with materials imported from Italy, is Mr. Cannon’s third venture with replacement chef Michael White, who’s turned out to be a more-than-capable backup. (Last October, New York Times critic Frank Bruni awarded Mr. White three stars at Convivio—a full one-star improvement over the Tudor City Place restaurant’s prior incarnation, L’Impero.)
The confident Mr. Cannon fully expects more of the same at Marea, considering how well things have been going so far with Mr. White.
“We came from similar experiences,” Mr. Cannon told the Daily Transom. “He had a situation with his partner, Steve Hanson, and couldn’t work with him. And I had I situation with my partner and I couldn’t work with him. And we kind of fell into each other.”
In an interview last week, Mr. Cannon couldn’t say enough good things about his current partner: “He’s a great guy. He’s classically trained. He’s incredibly creative and incredibly passionate. His motivations to do what he does are solely like my motivations in that we love food, we love eating. Like, when we go to Italy together, it’s like two 4-year-olds in a toy store. We’re just having fun the whole time. And, yeah, my wife hates us. I think both of our wives hate us because it’s like, ‘You call this a job!’”
Meanwhile, that pesky matter with the former chef, Mr. Conant, is finally over. The two culinary heavyweights settled their long-standing legal battle on March 13, according to court papers.
The pair had parted ways amicably enough in March 2007. “The whole thing with Scott, when we separated, was totally civil and good and done very well and quietly. No one knew it was happening,” Mr. Cannon said.
But things soon unraveled. In a 2008 interview with the trade publication New York Restaurant Insider, Mr. Conant was quoted associating his former business partner with “the Peter Principle, where people rise to their level of incompetence.” (Full disclosure: The Observer’s August 2008 profile of Mr. Conant was also later submitted into evidence.)
As a result, Mr. Cannon stopped sending deferred-compensation checks to his ex-chef, with his lawyer arguing that such “disparaging and defamatory remarks” violated a non-disparagement clause included in the estranged duo’s legal separation agreement.
Mr. Conant then sued, claiming that Mr. Cannon had violated the agreement himself, by criticizing his former chef’s cooking style in an interview with Alto Cucina Inc. as “too refined. With dishes like his hamachi with ginger oil he strayed too far.”
This past December, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge O. Peter Sherwood ruled that “neither [of them] met their respective burdens,” according to court papers.
In some ways, Mr. Cannon blamed himself for how things turned out.
“Part of the reason I’m in the position I’m in right now with my ex-chef is that I never really sought press,” he told the Daily Transom. “I never really got any notoriety or any reputation or anything. For me, it was always about the restaurant doing well and that was it. And, you know, the nature of the business in the last 25 years has been very chef-driven. … A lot of the reason we split up was because, basically, leverage. In any relationship, there’s leverage, either with your wife or whomever. In this situation, it was with a chef, and the chef felt that, because I was getting no notoriety, that he could do whatever he wanted. So things happened that led to the whole thing falling apart.”
Mr. Conant, now the owner of two Scarpetta restaurants in Manhattan and Miami, told the Daily Transom: “I’m sorry to hear that’s his perspective on the relationship. It’s been two and a half years. At the end of the day, I have real affection for Chris. I’m proud of what he’s doing, not only for him and his family, but for Italian food in general.”