The latest in the weekly Electric Theater conversation series features a discussion with celebrity chef and respected restauranteur, Chris Santos.
Likely best known as one of longest-running judges on The Food Network’s staple series Chopped, Santos has become synonymous with his no-nonsense delivery. It’s a character trait that has served him well in becoming one of the most recognized and respected celebrity chefs in the business.
First working in a restaurant at 13, cooking at 16 and transitioning to a chef roper at 23, Chris has spent a lifetime refining his craft. Santios shared with clown that throughout his professional ascent, metal music has always been the soundcheck to his professional path.
In connecting the dots between the kitchen and the music that plays while the work gets done, clown shared that his admiration for the world came from his own experience with working in a restaurant. As a teenager, clown recalled working at a Chinese restaurant in exchange for a band rehearsal space. The understanding was that he and his band could use the basement to rehearse so long as he worked washing dishes. It was during those hours in the dish pit that clown envisioned his future self - a reality he would eventually achieve.
The duo naturally had to discuss Santos’ long running tenure as a judge on the Food Network television series, Chopped. With an ongoing production run of some 11 years and counting and nearly 700 episodes done, Santos has served as judge for nearly a third of them. The chef recalled how he first got his start at the judges’ table and how his first three episodes functioned as the audition that would eventually lead to a regular seat on the panel.
Santos has earned the reputation for being the judge that will both praise the dishes the are done well and certainly dissect the ones that aren’t. Santos spoke candidly about how he feels its important to find all of the positive and negative to best assess the dish and more importantly, offer an honest critique. He would also explain that the situation does require some tact as chefs are very sensitive about their craft and sometimes take criticism very personal. In fact, he explained to clown that there have been contestants that have stormed off the set after being judged. There was even one time where Santos said he was ready to jump over the table to let his hands do the talking.
A big part of the chef’s identity comes from the music that has always been a part of his life. clown and Chris would discuss how metal music has been a passion for the chef and has since resulted in Santos taking on yet another project - a record label.
The beginning of Blacklight Media stemmed from Santos’ continuing to forge relationships with artists through food. He explained that many bands now know that if they are on tour and hav a day off in Los Angeles, Las Vegas , or New York, the go to see him to have the best meal they are going to have on that tour. The result has been a network of artists that share a mutual admiration for one another’s work. Santos, a fan of the metal music is able to welcome some of the biggest musicians who in turn get the privilege of sitting down to a meal prepared by one of the most accomplished chefs in the world.
That dynamic lead Santos to become close with Kerry King of Slayer. King, would eventually introduce Santos to metal cultural ambassador and Metal Blade Records’ very own, Brian Slagel. As the friendship would develop, Santos would share music with Slagel and earned a reputation for having an especially good hear for talent. In fact, band’s like Harm’s Way and the return of Candiria would eventually sign to Metal Blade all because Santos shared their music. The chef explains that after the fifth band landed a deal, Slagel made the suggestion that they should partner on a record label. Blacklight Media was born.
With a current roster that offers everything from doom to thrash, death to metalcore, Santos explains that he doesn’t maintain a purist attitude with metal because he loves all of it. He would also go onto explain that the traditional elements of running a label are out the door in that he doesn’t have to worry bout turning a profit. The bands signed to Blacklight Media are bands he believes in and though the road to success might take longer, that conviction In their sound and potential are really what make the label stacked in a very unique way.
The label sort of culminates a lifelong passion for Santos. He recalled being a teenager and taking a job in his hometown’s rock and metal club, mostly so he could see shows every night at work. He also explained that he has kept a consistent schedule in attending shows for years. During his 27 years as a resident in New York, Santos explained that at a minimum, he would catch 2 shows a week.
As for what show has been particularly memorable during that time - Slipknot. Santos set the stage for clown in detailing what he calls his ‘what the fuck did I just see” moment and it happened during the band’s 1999 appearance at Ozzfest. Unaware of who Slipknot was at the time, Santos caught the band’s set and described it as jaw-dropping. The memory still resonates to this day for Santos as one of the most powerful performances he has ever seen.
In recalling the show, Santos would propose a question to clown in asking if he knew then that Slipknot had something special, even during the earliest days. clown explained that the band all had an agreement on a common goal and they had determined that no one and nothing was going to stand in the way of them achieving that goal. From the onset, the band knew their path there would be no obstruction that would stop them.
As a celebrity chef, a restauranteur, and the head of a record label, that kind of sentiment and perseverance is something that Chris Santos could relate to.
Stream the complete conversation with Chris Santos and clown in the Electric Theater below.Embed: