Interview with Chef Chris Santos of The Stanton Social - New York City

September, 2007

Will Blunt: What year did you start your culinary career? What inspired you to pursue cooking?
Chris Santos: I started out washing dishes when I was 13, and I didn’t quit like most teenagers would after a while. There was this chef from Ireland there that I really admired and looked up to, and I liked the gratification of working so I stuck with it. I was executive chef at Time Café in New York at the age of 23…needless to say that taught me a lot.

WB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
CS: In New York, I’ve worked at Time Café, Rue 57, was executive chef at Suba,and I owned Wyanoka.

WB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
CS: Restaurant experience is more important. If you work in a restaurant for 8 to 10 years, you learn everything you would in culinary school. It can be important for sous chefs and higher positions to get some formal culinary education, but it’s not necessary for line cooks.

WB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
CS: I say: “So it’s 2 am and you just got home. What are you going to eat?”

WB: Are there any secret ingredients you especially like? Why?
CS: I use various kinds of salt – it can be really versatile in its textures and flavors; smoked salts particularly lend a lot to a dish. I always work with olive oil and I love cheese and pork belly.

WB: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
CH: Chiles and ginger, nori and sesame, and dates with thyme and lavender honey. I’m also very into Latin flavors right now.

WB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
CS: My small immersion blender is really dynamic. My Wolf stove is great, as is my rational combi-oven. I use my microplane for everything – I try to be creative with it.

WB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
CS: I like James Peterson’s cookbooks. Bobby Flay’s Bold American Food is a great book graphically. Charlie Trotter’s books inspire me a lot.

WB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
CS: I traveled all around Europe for inspiration – I went to Naples and the Amalfi Coast in Italy, Prague, and a bunch of other places. I’d like to go to Guatemala, Honduras and Brazil for the street food.

WB: What is your dining concept all about?
CS: The way people are eating is changing. They want their food to be fun – they really value entertainment, so I try to keep it interesting with multiple plates, small bites, and whimsical, updated classics, and good value. I’m going for simple, clean flavors, drawn from Mexico, Asia, my neighborhood, my parents, etc. It’s a melting pot.

WB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
CS: I’m working on a cookbook concept with the William Morris Agency and a chefs clothing line, and I’d like to open a rock n’ roll dive bar. I’m also working on other Stanton Social-like concepts. In 5 years I’d like to have three restaurants, each with a brilliant, tireless, exciting young chef in each one. I’d be the creative force behind them, but would have some great talent running the day to day.