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You’ve seen them judge the competition, battle for the title of All-Stars champion and compete in a friendly game with colleagues on After Hours, but there’s a lot you don’t know about the judges of Chopped. Here’s your chance to get to know the nine people behind the Chopping Block.
Chris Santos is the chef behind the communal-concept restaurants Beauty & Essex and The Stanton Social, both on the Lower East Side in New York City. He previously served as the executive chef of the famed Time Cafe and the award-winning Latin restaurant Suba. Chris has also worked as a food stylist and consultant on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and the movie Hitch. When he’s not judging on Chopped or cooking in his restaurants, you’ll find Chris hunting down the city’s best new burger, which is his guilty pleasure!
What’s your Achilles’ heel ingredient, one that you hate to work with or encounter in someone else’s dish?
Chris Santos: I’d say shellfish. I’m allergic, so I rarely touch the stuff, so having to deal with live crabs or something like that would be challenging.
What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?
CS: Besides shellfish, bananas. I really dislike them.
What was your most memorable meal? What, where, who? Details, please.
CS: This is a cop-out, but I really can’t name one specifically. I can tell you walking the streets of Paris and/or Barcelona or anywhere in Italy and just eating wherever I found myself drawn to has always been the most memorable food experiences.
What’s your guilty pleasure food?
CS: Burgers. Always on the hunt for the city’s best new burger. And whenever I travel, I always have to seek out the best burger joints in town.
Is there one dish that you always order out and never make at home?
CS: Cassoulet. I wish I could make it at home but rarely have the time. And it’s such a good reason to go out for dinner in cold-weather months.
What kitchen tool can’t you live without?
CS: Simple as it sounds, a Microplane — so good for so many reasons. I like to “grate” red onions over it when making guacamole, which creates a juice to swirl in as opposed to chunks of onion that can dominate certain bites.
If you weren’t in food, what career would you have liked to have tried?
CS: Boxing, as a fighter first, then a trainer, which could still happen one day, I suppose. Obsessed with the sport.
What’s your favorite “food city” to visit?
CS: That’s hard because nothing beats NYC. But I love going on a scavenger hunt in L.A. for out-of-the-way authentic Mexican or old-school burger counters.
What’s your favorite late-night snack?
CS: Smartfood popcorn. I love that stuff. Or if I am in a sweet mood, Tate’s chocolate chip cookies.
What’s one must-have at your last supper?
CS: Chilaquiles, a traditional Mexican dish that is my favorite thing in the world.
Who’s your favorite person to cook with?
CS: My girlfriend.
Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup or mustard? Mixed together equal parts with mayo.
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate all day.
Coffee or tea? Believe it or not, tea.
Burger or hot dog? Burger wins over almost anything.
Cream cheese or butter? Butter! Cream cheese is yummy, too, though. But you can do so much more with butter.
Soda or water? Water. Except when eating pizza. Then Diet Cherry Coke.
Sprinkles or jimmies? Jimmies