A conversation with chef Chris Santos is much like talking to a friend who happens to know a whole lot about food—there is no pretense. Feeling fortunate to be doing what he loves, Santos is now close to 20 years into his culinary career. A resident judge on the Food Network’s hit series Chopped, Santos is also the man behind New York City’s Stanton Social, a multicultural dining concept, and Beauty & Essex in New York and Las Vegas, with their signature pawnshop entrance and menus of bountiful and creative twists on classics and an extensive selection of shareable plates. Now he launches his first book, appropriately titled Share: Delicious and Surprising Recipes to Pass Around Your Table (Grand Central Life & Style, 2017), which reflects Santos’ unique brand of communal dining.
Santos grew up in a small town in Rhode Island, where his mother held multiple jobs while also attending school. By the time he was 10 years old, all three of his siblings were out of the house, meaning that family meals were only occasional. “Not having it every single night made it a little more special in my memory bank,” he says.
The chef says he can’t even remember the last time he ate in the classical style of ordering individual appetizers, entrées and desserts for each person: “Any food memory I have typically involved a group of people sharing everything.” He believes it has become the norm in dining, which is much different than it was 15 to 20 years ago. “The obvious benefits [of sharing] are that guests get to try more dishes,” he says. “The not-so-obvious advantage is that this also subtly encourages social interaction.”
With his new book, Santos provides home cooks with the inspiration they need to re-create the social feast (jewelry box–themed dining room not included). “It’s meant to be the book you pull out when you are having a dinner party, but can also be used when cooking just for yourself,” Santos says. “It’s an entertaining book that takes the most popular and loved dishes from my restaurants, and [makes them] accessible for the home cook.“
A product of many years, Santos says one of the challenges of writing the book (with co-author Rick Rodgers) was selecting the 100 recipes to be included out of the more than 500 he has developed during his culinary years of exploration and creativity.
Recipes from the first half of his career were scribbled notes of paper and notebooks that were housed in three different offices. While sifting through them, the chef says, “I tried to figure out what is best for the book, and also for the home cook.”
The oldest, most original recipe included in Share is the chipotle marinated grilled shrimp, which, when flipping through his own cookbook, the chef was surprised to notice graces both the back and front covers—a realization that his passion and culinary journey may have come a long way, but original favorites are still capable of taking center stage. “I remember when I opened my first restaurant in 1999, this dish was on the menu,” Santos says. “I’m closing in on 20 years—geez!”
Another recipe that readers will enjoy is the cobb salad bites with avocado vinaigrette, essentially a perfectly packaged salad in-hand, complete with all the ingredients, flavors and crunch that would normally be eaten with a fork.
“I am a big fan of handheld food,” Santos says. “There is nothing fun about silverware, but your hands are fun. It’s silly and sort of a primal way of eating. I believe food is about engaging all your senses, and one of them is touch. You don’t get that with a knife and fork.”
Next on Santos’ list is the imminent opening of Beauty & Essex Hollywood. While maintaining the classic concept from both the Manhattan and Las Vegas locations, the Hollywood location will offer some new surprises as well. He calls it “70–30,” and explains that 70 percent should be recognizable from another Beauty & Essex while the other 30 percent is composed of city-centric surprises.
“We will have outdoor seating on two levels. We also have an unbelievably spectacular space that overlooks the dining room,” Santos says. Consistent to this style, however, is the concept of sharing, and handheld eating is highly encouraged.
Cobb Salad Bites with Avocado Vinaigrette
Makes 24 Pieces, 6-8 Servings
Cobb salad, invented at Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurant, is now served everywhere. I have taken the essential ingredients (bacon, eggs, avocado, blue cheese) and created bite-sized salads that emphasize my favorite ingredient of all, bacon. Shredded Brussels sprouts replace the typical iceberg lettuce to make the salad extra crisp and robust.
Vegetable oil cooking spray, for the pans
6 slices thick-cut bacon, each cut crosswise into quarters to make 24 pieces
½ ripe Hass avocado, pitted, peeled, and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
About 2 tablespoons water, as needed
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ ripe Hass avocado, peeled, pitted, and finely diced (¼-inch)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
10 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 Roma (plum) tomatoes, seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice
3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
3 tablespoons finely crumbled blue cheese, preferably Maytag
2 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped
Special Equipment: Two 12-cup mini-muffin pans
1. To make the bacon cups: Position racks in the top third and the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375ºF. Turn two 12-cup mini-muffin pans upside down and lightly spray the upturned cups with oil.
2. Center a piece over each cup. Place each muffin pan on an 18-by-13-inch half-sheet pan to catch the rendered fat. Bake until the bacon cups are crisp and browned, about 20 minutes. Let the cups cool briefly on the pans. Using kitchen tongs or a small sharp knife, carefully lift the bacon cups from the pans and transfer to paper towels to cool. (The bacon cups can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Bring them to room temperature before serving.)
3. To make the vinaigrette: Puree the avocado, lemon juice, and mustard in a blender (or food processor). Mix the vegetable oil and olive oil together. With the machine running, gradually pour the mixed oils through the hole in the blender lid (or processor feed tube). Add enough water to thin the vinaigrette to the consistency of heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Makes about 1 cup. The vinaigrette can be tightly covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.)
4. To make the salad: Toss the diced avocado with the lemon juice in a large bowl. Shred the Brussels sprouts in a food processor (or with a large knife). Add them to the avocado, along with the tomato, onion, blue cheese, and eggs. Add about ½ cup of the vinaigrette (or more to taste) and toss gently. (Reserve the remaining vinaigrette for another use.)
5. Arrange the bacon cups on a large platter. Divide the salad, heaping it in tall mounds into the bacon cups. Serve immediately.
Cobb Salad Bites Photo Quentin Bacon
Excerpted from the book Share by Chris Santos. Copyright 2017 by Chris Santos. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.