By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV
As the first Black executive chef at Magdalena, Baltimore’s premier Black-owned restaurant in Mount Vernon, Scott Bacon realizes the significance and impact he will have on the area’s culinary landscape.
With the debut of dishes like Gulf shrimp and Carolina yellow rice grits, a flavorful combination that incorporates marinated green bee tomatoes, Fresno chili and Virginia ham, Bacon is firmly establishing what he calls “globally influenced Southern cuisine” at the restaurant in The Ivy Hotel, Maryland’s only Relais & Chateaux hotel, a worldwide accreditation for luxury hotels and restaurants.
“I’m striving to make it my narrative and style,” said Bacon, adding that he wants to connect guests with Maryland and Southern classics and culture.
Bacon’s cooking approach isn’t the only change he’s bringing to Magdalena. He realizes the rarity of him being a Black chef — especially at his young age of 31 — leading a fine dining restaurant.
In 2020, 14.7% of chefs and head cooks in the U.S. were Black, about 2 percentage points higher than their representation in the entire workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And recognition for Black culinary types has been scant. Lauded bodies such as the James Beard Foundation, a nonprofit that recognizes the culinary world through awards and training, have adjusted their approach in response to 2020′s racial reckoning to recognizing excellence in the culinary industry with new mission statements and promises of racial and gender equity.
Bacon hopes for the public to embrace his food, which includes nods from the African diaspora, French, British, Italian, new American, and locally sourced cooking styles he has picked up along his years in the industry.
Bacon’s offerings since he took over the kitchen Aug. 1 at Magdalena already have offered glimpses of his approach.
The crispy skin green circle chicken breast, atop kohlrabi collard greens (shaped in a green circle)and celery root puree flavored with confit garlic and dill represent the Southern tradition of cooking inspired by the staples fried chicken and collard greensfrom the African diaspora, according to Bacon.
A current menu offering, a roasted squash, confit sweet potato, with spiced pepitas, goat cheese and smoked squash, honors a dish his grandmother made with a nod to Bacon’s African American lineage.
These dishes offer “a little bit of my voice in another direction,” he said. “They represent tradition.”
His fall menu at the restaurant will signify who he is as a chef, calling it a “mistake” not to do so.
Bacon hopes that his diverse styles of cooking combined with his artistic background — he’s been a musician since he was a child — will result in a harmonious mix.
Growing up in Howard County, he studied jazz performance and composition at Howard Community College. His musical repertoire also includes electronic dance music.
“There’s a lot of parallels I started noticing. You’re creating something that exists in a moment. You get to learn the rules so that you can break them. You make [the dish] your own and take it into another direction,” said Bacon, who still performs under the name Deathguard-Oliver. “Cooking is like writing a song and coming up with a riff.”
Music eventually led Bacon to restaurants where he has worked for the past 11 years.
While he was studying music in college, Bacon picked up a job as a line cook at the Ze Mean Bean Cafe in Fells Point, and a prep cook at The Brewer’s Art in Mount Vernon.
Plan your weekend with our picks for the best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV shows and more. Delivered every Thursday
Those opportunities led to Bacon working for three years with the Foreman Wolf Group where he worked at Cinghiale in Harbor East and Johnny’s in Roland Park. It was there he became the sous chef. He then worked at Patterson Public House in Patterson Park before coming to Magdalena in 2019 as a chef de partie primarily focused on meat.
At Magdalena, Scott caught the eye of Eddie C. Brown, founder of Brown Capital Management, and owner of The Ivy Hotel.
“Promoting Chef Scott to head chef is momentous. As a Black-owned and operated ultra-luxury hotel in Baltimore, we are dedicated to cultivating and promoting Black talent at all levels,” Brown said. “Scott has shown tremendous leadership, passion and creativity in the kitchen and I’m confident will inspire the next generation of Black leaders in further diversifying American food ways and hospitality.”[Most read] Millionaire Baltimore businessman led double life as sex addict, tormentor; federal judge hands down 18-month sentence »
Bacon said he wants to continue Brown’s legacy of Black excellence in Baltimore.
“I have never worked for a Black-owned business in my career,” he said. “This feels like a destination more than a job.”