Scott Witherow founded Tennessee’s first and only bean-to-bar chocolate company, Olive & Sinclair, in 2007 in Nashville.
The monotonous, deep hum of the melanguers (stone mills) played on repeat, white chocolate spinning in one and dark chocolate in the other. “In my head I thought we stone grind grits, why don’t we stone grind cacao,” Scott Witherow said matter-of-factly. With his hair neatly disheveled under his hat and sandlewood-colored circle glasses casually perched on the brim of his nose, Witherow told us the story of how he acquired the melanguers. The sound of the ancient stone mills disappeared, as Witherow’s tale took center stage.
When he turned around I noticed a green dinosaur tattoo on his tricep. Being the curious human that I am, I asked him the significance. “My grandfather owned a few Sinclair Oil stations,” he said with fondness in his voice. “It’s the Sinclair dinosaur.” I put two and two together and realized that each chocolate bar is tattooed with the name Sinclair. Witherow went on to tell stories about his grandfather, his personal antique addiction, and why he puts brown sugar in his chocolate. We left, and I knew I had to sit at the table with him and ask him more questions. So, we pulled up chairs to the opposite
- Most notable food memory? I have so many, how many do you want? I love making stuff for folks. When I was in first or second grade and my mom was outside doing something, and I wanted to make her a meal. I wanted it to look nice, so I went into my closet and put on my black Karate pants and a little button down. I made her a tuna fish sandwich. When she came in, I had a cloth on my arm and and plated it as nice as you can plate a tuna fish sandwich. And even looking back, yea, it was just a tuna fish sandwich, but it made me love the hospitality industry. As simple as it was, it made her happy.
- If you were not doing what you were doing what would you be? Architect.
- Most sought after dinner guest, living or not? My number one would be my grandad. My number two would be Dave Grohl.
- Junk food vice? That’s basically all I eat. I live on pork rinds, salt and vinegar if I can find them. Let’s see. Beef jerky and crap candy. I love Now and Laters and rock candy. Leave all the crap out. Just give me the sugar. When I was a kid, I would hide candy in the cuff of my jeans or in my sock. I also liked that powder candy that was in the plastic fruit containers. The banana was awful, though.
- What restaurant do you most want to visit? There’s so many places. I would love to go to Noma. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I would love to eat at one of Marco Pierre White’s restaurants.
- What is your favorite food city that you’ve been to? Either London or Charleston.
- What city do you most want to visit that you’ve not been to? Greece or Jerusalem.
- What quality do you most look for in a vegetable? Local and freshness.
- Biggest culinary/bartender inspiration? Why? I don’t really get into the culinary inspiration thing. If I had to pick someone, though, it would be Fergus Henderson.
Breakfast and Lunch
- What’s your greatest food extravagance? It’s what my wife and I do, eat and drink. Probably just going to Europe to eat in general or Alinea.
- So aside for food extravagance, what is your extravagance in general? I’m a borderline hoarder. I love old stuff. Quirky stuff. I just bought a 1938 Vespa 400. I also like old guitars.
- What/who do you listen to while cooking? The Dextateens out of Alabama.
- When was the last time you cooked at home? What did you make?I cook everyday. My wife has cooked twice in ten years. I don’t mean that in disrespect. I just love to cook and it’s what I do. The last thing I ate was a 22 month old ham that my friend Allen Benton cooked. I was fortunate enough to not cook and just enjoy it.
- Thoughts on a crockpot? There is absolutely no reason to have a crockpot. Just cook what you’re cooking low and slow in the oven at 200 degrees.
- Where would you love to cook a meal? Truthfully, we’ve got a farm right outside of Leipers Fork. I would just enjoy cooking a meal for friends and family out there. We actually do it regularly. It’s my favorite. I don’t need to go anywhere else.
- What’s the most overrated ingredient? Truffle oil. I hate that stuff.
- If you had the chance to redo one meal/cocktail you’ve ever served, which one would it be, what would you serve instead? I’m not one for going backwards. I wouldn’t redo anything. I would just tweak some stuff.
- If you were only allowed to keep one sense only, what would it be? Taste without question.
- If you could bring back one deceased relative to cook for, who would it be and what would you cook for them? Again, my grandaddy. I would probably do something with pork belly and confit. Simple roast carrots and potatoes. Something that he would enjoy.
- What book are you currently reading? I’m really excited about getting Sean Brock’s new book. That being said, Junie B. Jones with my daughters.
- Biggest threat to Food & Beverage industry? Overcrowding it. A person can only go out so much.
- If you can change one thing about the food and beverage industry what would it be? Make work environments a better place, which to me is the most important.
- How would you doctor up store bought Ramen? Hot sauce (Texas Pete, of course), charred spring onions, and a braising liquid.
- What imaginary figure would you most want to cook for? Peter Pan.
- What would you tell your 20 year old self? Shut up.
- What do you most value in your peers/team? Their dedication and hard work, without question. They are more important than I am here.
- What’s your death row meal? I probably wouldn’t eat. I would just want to hang out with my family.
- What is your motto? My initial reaction is, “I don’t give a shit.” I was having a convo with my wife about my kids, who are like me, and she would say the same thing. This is by no means in a bad way, though. If I want to do something, I do it. This is true for me all over the board. I am notoriously bad for buying old stuff, and a lot of times it goes in my favor. I love antique jewelry, which goes in my wife’s favor. It’s one of those things where I’ll never see that piece again. She says it’s my love language, whatever the hell that is. These are things we can pass down to our daughters.
- What is another interesting story in your book? My family moved to Columbia, SC for a little while when I as a kid. Across the street from the library was a used bookstore. The husband passed away and there was a thing in the paper that everything would be half off, so my mom went over to get some books from my brother and me. This is where I get the love for quirky stuff. There was always this picture on the top shelf that my mom liked. She asked if the picture was for sale. The woman said if there was a price on the back it was for sale. It was a framed photo of Abraham Lincoln. It was like $60 so she bought it for $30. Brought it home. She showed it to my dad. He’s not into old stuff, but this piqued his interest. He said, “Rita, I think that’s areal photo.” They took the back off and there was a letter behind it that Abraham Lincoln had signed, releasing the soldiers from war a week before he died. They sent it to a friend to authenticate. The friend called back and said it was real. He asked if he could sent it to a friend at the Smithsonian. That guy called my folks back. Not only was it real, but the plate they used to make the photo was in the museum. I would never sell it because it’s not about the money for me. It’s more about the story and the history. It’s hanging in my house and my daughters always ask about the man in the photo.
You can follow Scott Witherow on the CurEat App, available for iOS and Android for his bar recommendations in from Nashville to Florida. Once you’ve downloaded, search “Olive & Sinclair” under CurEaters.