Magdalena’s Chef Scott Bacon on Feminine Energy, Toxic Masculinity in the Kitchen, and the Appropriative Nature of Culinary Culture

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Chef Scott Bacon, executive chef of Magdalena, a Maryland bistro, wants the world to know that Baltimore is setting the table. “In Baltimore we are really pushing to be world-class in our hospitality industry. We have a place, and we do belong in the cosmopolitan world of cooking in America,” Bacon shared with me over a cup of coffee in early December.

Chef Scott Bacon grew up in Columbia, Maryland, in a mixed-race global family. His mother’s family is British and his father is from Ellicott City, with family sprawling south into the Carolinas. European, Mid-Western, and Southern influences seeped into his life from childhood. It was his grandfather, well-traveled from his time in the Air Force, who attempted to explain white privilege to him at a young age.

“My white grandfather was the one that [said] because I’m Black I would have to be twice as good as the person next to me in order to achieve,” he recalls. The conversation influenced his ambition and dedication in his 13-year career from his beginnings as a line cook to his current roles as Magdalena’s first Black executive chef. Magdalena, located on the ground floor of the Ivy Hotel on the residential corner of Biddle and Calvert Street, highlights the plentiful bounty sourced from the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Initially opened in 2015, Magdalena pivoted in 2020 from fine dining to a bistro model that focused on local sourcing and accessibility. The change, like so many recently, was an evolution in response to challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Chef Scott took on the role of executive chef in 2021 and continues to execute a seasonal menu sourced from mainstay farmers and producers of the area, emphasizing Maryland dishes.


Food in general, because it’s beautiful, is not masculine by nature... I think toxic masculinity, especially in the kitchen, doesn’t make any sense. It’s misplaced. We’re trying to do this thing that is inherently an expression of love and we’re all mad at each other and we’re puffing our chests.
Chef Scott Bacon

“The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is such an incredible area; we’re so lucky to be in such a bountiful and beautiful and biologically diverse area. There’s not anything I want that’s not here… other than citrus, unfortunately. Not yet anyway,” he jokes, referencing the warmer winters. It was nearly 60 degrees outside the day we spoke.

His raspy chuckle fades quickly and he straightens, his tone becoming serious. “There are still tomatoes on the list,” he shares, to emphasize the reality of global warming. “The seasons start earlier and go longer. The unpredictable weather, heavy rains, or unexpected frosts can ruin a crop overnight,” he adds. “If you want to cook local, you have to be ready to pivot.”

In Maryland, it’s not just land crops that are affected by the global crisis. Maryland’s crab industry has suffered in various ways in recent years, causing the price of world-famous Maryland crabmeat to soar. The price increase and low output are due in part to the Department of Homeland Security caps on seasonal migrant workers.

Maryland’s Eastern Shore crab industry relies heavily on migrant workers from Mexico, almost all women, to achieve the volume of crab processing it’s known for. The 400-600 annual migrant workers are expected to travel from Mexico to Maryland to work in the industry every April through November, but with caps and pandemic-related concerns, the industry has suffered. When it comes to having a crabcake, Chef Scott has to ask the awkward question in his Maryland bistro, “Is it worth it to put it on the menu?”

He still sources crab, from Maryland and Louisiana, but prefers to be more nuanced in his use of the ingredient. “I always view it as more delicate, so I would rather do a scallop mousse ravioli with crab on top than do a crabcake.”

He lights up with the opportunity to share the merits of another Chesapeake Bay delicacy that he thinks we should embrace, “One of the most beautiful things in the entire Chesapeake Bay region is the blue catfish, and it’s not loved,” he says scathingly and shakes his head. “Completely unloved.”


The way I interpret what Maryland food is by representing the farm, and the area, and the people that are here.
Chef Scott Bacon

Adult blue catfish are not bottom-feeders, contrary to popular belief. They have beautiful meaty filets and a similar flavor profile to striped bass. The invasive blue catfish is plentiful in the region and fishery management groups like the Maryland Department of the Environment have provided well-researched guidelines for safe consumption.

“I’m trying to find a way to make blue catfish a center-of-the-plate entrée item that people are going to order,” he shares while brainstorming ideas including a Shio Koji cured filet, crusted with panko crumbs and potato chips and pan-fried. “I get excited at the prospect and hope to see it on the menu soon.”

While primarily focused on Maryland classics, Magdalena also caters to the Ivy Hotel’s global guests. The independently Black-owned boutique hotel is a Relais & Châteaux member – an association of hotels and restaurants worldwide dedicated to meaningful hospitality and preserving local heritage and environment. Relais & Châteaux members, including 580 properties with 340 Michelin stars, are also committed to local sourcing ingredients at fair prices and offering cuisine that represents the area’s global diversity.

“There’s a very, very culturally diverse and massive community in Maryland and in the Chesapeake,” Chef Scott answers when asked to define Maryland cuisine. “The way I interpret what Maryland food is by representing the farm, and the area, and the people that are here.”

Not only are people in Maryland diverse, the food grown in the region is expanding. “Rice is very important to me,” Chef Scott shares. Rice, still an emerging crop in Maryland, has a long and dark history along the coastal shores of South Carolina and Georgia. The colonial crop flourished with slave labor from Africa’s “rice coast.” From Senegal to Sierra Leone, Africa’s best rice producers were sought out for their knowledge of the crop before being kidnapped and sold into slavery, making rice an inherently African food in the U.S.

Large-scale rice production was never implemented in Maryland, but it has been documented as a small garden crop grown without rice paddies. Next Step Produce in Southern Maryland has been growing rice since 2011 without rice paddies and with more success each year. It’s a crop that Chef Scott tries to incorporate whenever possible.


Influenced by his southern granny, who cooked collards and yellow rice, and his English nana, who cooked basmati and jasmine, Chef Scott takes rice seriously. Rice grits are frequently on the menu along with rice chips, a crunchy accompaniment made from pulverized cooked rice that is dehydrated in sheets before being fried like a chicharron.

Global flavors and spice combinations are sprinkled throughout Chef Scott’s menu, including his blends of Middle Eastern and African harissa, berbere, and dukkah. “Cultures that created big flavors that are utilized all over the world are completely misrepresented,” he says. Dukkah, a blend of nuts, seeds, and spices, adds texture and flavor in various ways. Chef Scott uses his blend of benne seed, pistachio, and roasted brown rice as a condiment for crunch. “I was calling it pepita or pistachio crunch, but I’ve decided to stop hiding things, especially culturally,” he acknowledges. “If it’s dukkah I’m going to call it that, from this point of my career.”

Magdalena is focused on sourcing and education, from carefully chosen ingredients to knowledgeable, educated servers. Scott wants the guests to feel excited about the menu items and ingredients and to feel empowered to ask if they don’t know what something is. “Global flavors excite people, and it’s very much who I am as a person, an amalgamation of all these influences and my family and different cultures.”

He recognizes that the culinary world is rife with appropriation. “Slavery happened, it’s awkward, but we need to talk about it, and especially when it comes to food, it’s like you’re stealing constantly,” he says. “The appropriative qualities of the culinary world… you can’t understate it.”


Chef Scott has a delicate and meaningful approach to his craft, made apparent by his breadth of knowledge of the ingredients on his menu. In so much of our conversation, I hear him pull stories from his childhood, a nostalgic sepia-toned story of his granny, or nana, or mother. I ask him if he employs many women in his kitchen today.

“Unfortunately not,” he answers but he’s hopeful that will change soon. His pastry chef and her assistant are women, and he has two spots open in his kitchen (at the time of the interview) for an executive sous and sous chef. He is hoping to fill the positions with women.

“One of the restaurant owners I worked with [previously] said my food was very feminine and the way that I cooked was very feminine,” he says, speaking about an instance where he felt offended by the distinction–not because his masculinity was under scrutiny but because, to Chef Scott, food is delicate.

“Food in general, because it’s beautiful, is not masculine by nature,” he says. “I think toxic masculinity, especially in the kitchen, doesn’t make any sense. It’s misplaced. We’re trying to do this thing that is inherently an expression of love and we’re all mad at each other and we’re puffing our chests,” he says, confused by the aggressive nature in some kitchens.

His cooking and approach to food are gentle, which he attributes to his relationship with the women in his family. “I’m a very sensitive person… I don’t really care about crying and all the things men aren’t supposed to do, and that’s partially because of my relationship with my grandmother and my mother.”

He uses that inspiration in how he manages his kitchen, “Thank God for feminine energy,” he says unflinchingly. “I want to evoke that in my kitchen.” He admits to his share of flare-ups in the heat of the kitchen but says, “I try to operate with grace and manage my kitchen with grace. I definitely think about these things a lot more than the average person swinging around a chef’s knife.”


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