Chef Scotley Innis
Photo: Instagram

Chef Scotley Innis' Oxtail Lo Mein Is Bussin’!

The culinary king is expanding his Continent restaurant beyond ATL with a brand-new Brooklyn location that serves up delicious Caribbean cuisine with a twist

Chef Scotley Innis is trying to be two places at once. In this present moment, on an April afternoon, he's shuttling in and out of meetings at the site of his new restaurant, Continent Brooklyn, working out all of the kinks and plans ahead of a launch that is less than two months away. There's anxiety on his part, yes. But also excitement.

"It's a rollercoaster," says Innis, who gained popularity through his television appearances as a contestant on Hell's Kitchen, Chopped, and Late Night Eats. "This is a big task. We are aligning ourselves for what I would call the war. Not a bad war; a good war. It's a lot that we have to endure to reach to the top level."

Launching an upscale restaurant is a massive undertaking when it's your sole focus. It's made even more arduous when you're running another establishment nearly 900 miles away. Innis, 41, has been back and forth from New York to Atlanta, where three years ago he opened Continent Restaurant & Cigar Lounge—an eatery with the service and decor of an upscale restaurant but comfort and casualness of a neighborhood staple. Innis' culinary language is Caribbean-Asian fusion, a style he's perfected through stints as sous chef at South City Kitchen and executive chef at 5Church Atlanta in Midtown. His newest venture, located in Williamsburg’s Hotel Indigo, is an extension of the cocktail bar/restaurant Aliya, which launched in January. Both represent a homecoming for the Bronx native who has been based in the A for the past two decades.

"New York is top echelon when it comes to the best restaurants in the world," he says. "So you'll have your stiffest critics that come and critique your food. But we have the recipe for success."

You can get a taste for yourself now; Continent Brooklyn officially opened its doors on June 1. LEVEL caught up with Chef Scotley Innis ahead of the grand opening to discuss his roots in cooking, the Keith Lee stimulus effect, and the menu entrees that will change your life.

LEVEL: What are some of your formative memories related to food that helped influence you to become a chef?

Chef Scotley: My earliest fond memories of cooking goes back to childhood. Growing up in a Jamaican household, I didn't grow up eating fast food. Always had a home-cooked meal. I've always loved food just because of the culture that I grew up in. Then I turned it into a craft and [became] well recognized as a young Black chef representing the Caribbean and elevating our food.

How did you develop your cooking identity?

My fusion style goes back to New York, which is a big melting pot in which you can taste any and every cuisine from around the world. Growing up in the Bronx, I fell in love with Chinese food. It was always accessible to us. I wasn't born rich, so it was also affordable. But we have a large population of Chinese people in Jamaica, so we use a lot of the same ingredients in our food. We just have different techniques and finishing dishes than each other.

Growing up and consuming food from both regions made me want to elevate Jamaican food in general, because we're known to be your typical mom-and-pop [restaurants], putting food in a to-go plate. I always wanted to be a well-respected chef, but also let the masses know I don't just know how to cook Jamaican food. I could cook whatever. So Continent is basically giving you a full-travel around the world.  You're tasting different ethnic cuisines all in one place.

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What sets one of your establishments apart from others?

Besides the cuisine, when you go into Continent [in Atlanta] and see the aesthetics, you're just like, “Wow, I wouldn't expect this restaurant to be on Buford Highway.” The aesthetics play such an innate part in our brand, but also our cocktails, which have been curated by our master mixologist Mike Hayes, a Hennessy ambassador. What really tops it off is our service. We pride ourselves for service because as a Black establishment, all eyes are on us. People are looking for the imperfections. Sometimes we might have an off day, but when you talk about the service, it’s consistent.

Keith Lee has become one of the most powerful cosigns in the culinary world. Did you pay attention when he toured Atlanta?

I wasn't focused on it, because we pride ourselves on consistency. If you come Tuesday, you're going to get the same consistent dish that you could get on Friday. Even if I'm not around. It's just like the health inspector coming in to inspect your restaurant and food. Some people panic, but once you keep your s**t aligned and you have everything in order, you're not going to worry. We're human; we do make mistakes. I would love the exposure, but I don't really care if he comes to town or not.

What is one piece of advice for a beginner chef looking to step up their meals at home?

My biggest advice is make sure you have all your ingredients and items in place. It helps your dish come out consistent and helps prevent you from burning your food. Your mise en place is key. And the knowledge of which food you're cooking. Some people might think when you have a beef product, they all cook the same. Certain parts of an animal cook longer than the other parts. So your knowledge of food [is important].

How do you go about teaching your kids about entrepreneurship and the culinary industry while also allowing themselves to find their own passions?

As an entrepreneur, and when it comes to my kids and cooking, yes, I have them watch me cook. But I haven't really pushed them into cooking because—not to talk bad about my occupation—but I know what comes with it. I want my kids to live a life that I haven't lived. I don't have your typical nine-to-five schedule. It's harder for me to cook for them or be there to show them certain things, because by the time I'm finished with work, they're tucked in bed. But because I'm their dad, they love to see what I do and they want to help me in the kitchen. They want to cook, to know what this is and what that is.

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What is one dish you'd recommend that someone order at Continent?

One thing that I recommend for everybody is our signature dish, the oxtail lo mein. For vegans, I would say stew pea. Traditionally, it comes with pigtail salted beef. But we've turned it vegan: kidney beans cooked with coconut milk, fresh herbs, and scotch bonnet peppers. You have onions and bell peppers along with it. I've had vegans asking me multiple times, are you sure you haven't cooked this with any animal products?