By Frank Sabatini Jr.
The personal and professional triumphs of a rising chef
In an industry dominated by men, Dominick Scott knows what it’s like climbing the culinary ladder as a woman.
Before recently landing the position as head chef at The Glass Door, located on the fourth floor of Little Italy’s Porto Vista Hotel, the 31-year-old Serra Mesa resident identified as female.
“I lived as a girl my whole life and was uncomfortable with it, but never really shared that with family or friends — nobody,” said Scott, adding that in his early teens he would dress up in his brother’s clothes when family members weren’t home.
What he saw in the mirror seemed natural.
“Even if it was just for an hour, it felt like I should be a male,” he recalled. “But I never knew back then a female could transition to a male.”
At age 17, Scott came out as a lesbian. Although several years later, after seeing a YouTube video about female-to-male (FTM) transitions, he became determined to eventually make the journey.
Scott secured health insurance more than a year ago and immediately began the process through hormone therapy. He has since changed his name from Nikkole to Dominick; listed his gender as “male” on Facebook; and has attended Trans Pride events, despite his disinterest in politics.
“I won’t consider myself fully transitioned for another two years,” he said.
Precluding his job at The Glass Door, he worked mostly as a female in various capacities for a number of restaurants and briefly attended culinary school at Grossmont College.
After starting out as a lead line cook for the USS Midway café, he moved to busier lines at Fox Sports Grill in the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, as well as Burlap and Searsucker.
He later secured sous chef gigs at Cannonball and Draft in Belmont Park, and then at The Cheesecake Factory, at which time he began transitioning and came out as trans to co-workers.
“Everyone was really accepting and they got used to the name change,” he said, admitting, however, that he disliked the restaurant’s corporate climate.
“I originally wanted to be a marine biologist, but it took too much math, which I’m horrible at,” he said. “Then I realized I was good at cooking. It came to me naturally after cooking with my mom from a very early age.”
He also cooked often for his stepmother, who taught him the ropes of Filipino cooking, a cuisine he remains passionate about.
As a female, however, Scott said cracking into the professional culinary world was challenging.
“I had a lot harder time finding jobs as a female than I have as a male,” he said.
For his successful interview at The Glass Door — where he came out to his bosses as trans shortly after getting the job — Scott was tasked with making two entrees using several ingredients from a “mystery basket,” which included salmon, chicken breast, potatoes and cous cous.
“It was the first time I had to interview like that,” he said. “It was pretty nervewracking.”
Scott swooned the panel with honey-glazed salmon paired with kale and roasted potatoes, and chicken capperi draped in lemon-caper sauce, which subsequently ended up on The Glass Door’s dinner menu.
Since starting in July, he has revised 90 percent of the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus with new dishes that include fig bruschetta with goat cheese crostini; Gorgonzola rib eye; beer-battered fish tacos; and a refreshed selection of flat breads. He is also establishing relationships with local farmers to source seasonal ingredients.
Scott draws some of his culinary inspiration from celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto of Food Network’s “Iron Chef” series, because “he takes traditional dishes and refines them with a lot of detail.”
With an ounce of luck, Scott hopes to show off his own culinary skills on the network, having auditioned last year via Skype to be a contestant on “Cutthroat Kitchen.”
“They decided to go with somebody else, but I want to audition for ‘Chopped’ soon,” he said, referring to Food Network’s long-running reality cooking show hosted by openly gay Ted Allen.
While Scott’s culinary career holds unforeseen promises, his FTM journey is certain; so is the love and support he has received from family members, including his biological father, a retired Marine veteran with whom Scott has formed a close relationship after years of living apart.
In regard to the cultural strides and challenges seen within the trans community, Scott doesn’t ignore either.
“It’s a lot more accepted now with all-gender restrooms,” he said. “But we are definitely still getting over that whole negative connotation of trans labels. I would love to speak someday for support groups.”
Note: The Porto Vista Hotel, located at 1835 Columbia St., is home to Top of the Bay happy hour, a popular LGBT event held from 5 to 10 p.m. every Friday on the rooftop deck, one floor above The Glass Door where Scott displays his culinary skills.
For more information about the restaurant or happy hour, call 619-544-0164 or visit portovistasd.com.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.