Celebrity Chef Jonathan Scinto talks food, family and helping others

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Chef Jonathan Scinto may have reached celebrity status from cooking in front of the camera, but for Jonathan, his true focus is on his evolving homegrown entertainment company, upcoming projects, and first and foremost, his family.

Long before MasterChef and Rooftop Chopped, the Queens native said he began cooking somewhere between the age of 4 and 5 years old, and while many other children were watching cartoons, he was watching Julia Child and making scrambled eggs on the floor.  Before he even knew what he was making, he said he would take food out of the refrigerator and just blend things together.  Even though he jokes it was a mess for his mother, Jonathan said she always encouraged him and let him run with it.

“My mom allowed me to really get in the kitchen and have some fun,” he said.

Even though Jonathan loved to cook, during his school years he focused primarily on his passion for art.  He received a scholarship to study art at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, but after his first year he felt overwhelmed and something inside him told him he needed to just get to work.  Jonathan said he always had an entrepreneur mindset, and over the course of time, he continued to cook and worked for various businesses while he took classes at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT).

With time and commitment, Jonathan received a BFA in Computer Graphics from NYIT, and said learning those skills in particular benefitted him tremendously with his cooking career and his ability to maximize all of his social media platforms.  After completing his degree at NYIT, Jonathan began cooking for Post Perfect, a post production company in Manhattan formerly located in the old Daily News building, and worked his way to Catering and Client Services Manager while cooking for artists such as Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Linkin Park and CEOs for various television networks.  It was during his time at Post Perfect where he said he really paid attention to his clients and how they represented themselves to help him grow his business.

A year later, 9/11 happened and the NYC company suffered a financial casualty as a result of the tragedy, so when Jonathan showed up for work one day to chains on the doors, he was left blindsided and wondering where to turn.  Although the loss left him unsure about what to do with his career, the entrepreneur in Jonathan kicked in, and between 2002 and 2003, he opened his first restaurant, Home Cookin Café, in Bayshore, N.Y., with his father.  Only two years later, his father fell ill, and they sold the business.  Jonathan then became the Assistant Director of Admissions and Director of Recreational Cooking Classes at the Culinary School and worked night and day.  He tried to make the most of it, but he was wasn’t happy.

One day, he came home from work and he said his wife, Annmarie, suggested he quit his job and find something that would make him happy.  Jonathan said she told him he looked deflated and it was upsetting for her to see him that way.  He could not believe what he was hearing and was stunned.

“I just sat there and debated it for like a full day, and the next day after we had that conversation she said, MasterChef was auditioning in New York City and that I had to go audition,” he said.

At the time in 2014, Jonathan said he had already developed a decent social media presence, so when MasterChef called him, they offered a VIP Audition with only hours to prepare.  Jonathan stayed up until 5 a.m. creating a dish and said he made it to the 5:30 a.m. train by the skin of his teeth, with his backpack of food in tow.  He had three minutes to prepare with no cooking allowed, and he plated his food in less than a minute.

“I made a chicken marsala soup and I had a military thermos to keep it hot,” he said.

From that moment, Jonathan spent approximately four months overall going through the process to successfully make it on MasterChef Season 6.  Contestants were disconnected from the world and lived in hotels with limited access to television and communication with loved ones.  For Jonathan, this was a challenge for him having a wife and daughters at home, but he said his wife supported him all along the way.  Before he left, he said he made videos for all of them to watch while he was away to help pass the time and stay connected in anticipation of little to no contact for a period of time while filming.  Throughout the entire MasterChef experience, Jonathan made the most of everything and said he even journaled every day and took guesses on who was going to stay or go.

“These TV shows, there is real cooking; there is no question about that, but it’s story based,” he said.

The two-time New York State “Taste of America” Champion in Seafood said when he came home from MasterChef he was ready to hit the ground running and start his own business.  He began cooking for charity events and with his wife by his side, they launched, Chef Jonathan’s Private Parties & Events.  The first year they did approximately 40-50 events and he said with the goal of wanting to help people, they gave away six figures that year through dinners they were cooking for.

With the support of local newspapers, Newsday and News 12, word began to spread for Jonathan’s business and helped them gain more dinners to host to help raise money.  March of Dimes, St. Jude’s, and countless local organizations that offer services for children and mental health, Jonathan said, are especially important for him to be a part of, because of his own daughter with special needs.  The first two years was taking no paycheck and networking, and he said it was really tough, but each year they grew.

Over the years, Chef Jonathan, who became well-known for his “Itasian” style cooking; taking traditional Italian cooking and adding an Asian flare, can also be seen on cooking competition shows such as Food Network’s Chopped and has pursued a career in acting appearing on hit shows, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Quantico, Blacklist: Redemption and Homeland.  He has been featured in Forbes and Good Housekeeping magazines and makes appearances such as his most recent stop with his live cooking show, Get’n Saucy with Scinto, at the Jacob Javits Center on March 10, 2020, just days before the shutdown. 

Throughout all of the hard work and successes, Jonathan has been fighting a very rare muscle disease known as, Schulman Syndrome, and last July it suddenly caught up with him. One day, while enjoying a family lunch at a pizza place, Jonathan suddenly started sweating profusely and the whole right side of his body went completely numb.  Trying not to alarm the children, they quietly made their way out, and his wife rushed him to the hospital to learn Jonathan had suffered a minor stroke. Prior to the stroke, Jonathan appeared on the cover of Preferred Health Magazine and openly shared his story with readers across the country. He made it a mission to share his illness and began working to spread awareness with hopes to help other people who are suffering from the disease.  Having suffered such a blow to his health, forced him to once again, re-evaluate his path; leading him to make the painful decision to take a step-back from full-time cooking.

“I really hide it well.  The pain that I go through on a daily basis is just crazy,” he said.

In true Scinto fashion, this did not mean the entrepreneur was quitting anything, but setting his sights in a new direction.  Taking all his years of experience, Jonathan said he decided it was time to start filming his own shows, so the actor, chef and philanthropist created and launched, JS Entertainment. Development for Family Kitchen Revival began in January 2019 and by July they were filming.  In the show, Jonathan hosts and cooks for eight families who want to say thank you to people who have helped them get through a difficult time in life.  He said he wanted to know as little as possible about each family to keep it as real and organic as possible.

Season 1 premiered on Amazon Prime in November of 2019 to great success, and while he is hoping to create a second season when things open back up for filming, for now Jonathan said he is in the process of redeveloping the show and working with a network who is planning to bring the show to an even bigger audience and a new platform very soon.

“As a whole we reached millions of people, which is just very rare for a tv show that has no major advertising,” he said.

Currently, Jonathan is getting ready to go back into production in September with a new show called, Two Dudes Get’n Saucy, a play on the name of Dudes Gourmet, a spice company he works with. The program will be an entertainment show set in different restaurants, venues and locations to talk about pop culture with various people.  They are working on the platform, but Jonathan is expecting it will be released first on Amazon.

In everything Jonathan does he said he tries to focus on balance.  From family, to cooking, filmmaking and especially social media, he said he gives his all to every facet of his life.  With social media being such a responsibility to use, he said he has learned over the years to ignore the bullies and move on.  He said he was bullied as a child and has been bullied on social media, and he knows how that can make a person feel, so he has been especially watchful of his teenage daughter and as a parent with everything going on in the world he keeps a careful eye.

At the end of the day, family is everything to Jonathan.  He balances his life around their happiness and takes life one day at a time bringing people together wherever he goes.

Family Kitchen Revival is available to stream on Roku through the Glewed TV App for free, and you can follow Chef Jonathan Scinto on Facebook and Instagram to keep up on all happenings.

Photos Courtesy of Chef Jonathan Scinto

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