There are certain notable similarities between musicians in metal bands and chefs. Both professions generally involve working late hours, with heavily tatted-up guys operating in a fast-paced, adrenaline-infused environment. NYC chef Chris Santos, known for his sceney Lower East Side haunts Stanton Social and Beauty and Essex, as well as his time as a judge on the Food Network’s Chopped, recently eyed the crossover possibilities of the food and metal worlds and made his entrance into rock and roll. Santos has launched a new record label called Blacklight Media, an imprint under the umbrella of venerated Metal Blade Records, where bands like Metallica and Slayer got their start.
Santos is a busy guy. He just opened a new New York City restaurant called Vandal and has plans to open new establishments in LA and Las Vegas later this year. But music has long been his other passion. “I’m a lifelong rock and metal junkie,” he said. “I grew up in Rhode Island in a really teeny town. On Saturdays… first thing in the morning, you’d take the bus to Providence, go to a metal store to buy metal records.” His music obsession continues today. He often finds himself getting home after a 14-hour shift and compulsively scouring the Internet to find new bands. It’s his way of decompressing. “It’s kind of like a junkie with a fix. I always need something new: new music, new music, new music.”
Over the past few years, Santos developed a friendship with Metal Blade founder Brian Slagel, and the two would frequently talk music over glasses of wine late into the night. “I started sending him stuff,” Santos said, “and [Brian] started signing bands I was sending him. After the fourth or fifth band, he was like, ‘Dude, let’s just do an imprint.’” The first band signed to the label is called Good Tiger, and Santos hopes that, at the very least, his name recognition will help the band (and future signees) get some notice. “Do I expect to discover the next Metallica or Slayer? No, but it would be cool to give exposure to a band that might not normally get it because of the other things that are happening in my life.”
By luck and by design, Santos has surrounded himself with likeminded staff who don’t mind listening to thrashing guitars, screamed vocals, and double-time kick drums while cooking and plating delicious food. Santos grew up on bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, but now he prefers the Deftones, classic Faith No More, Hatebreed, and Slayer. “Fucking Slayer,” he said. “You can’t go wrong with Slayer.”
In addition to the new restaurants, Santos just finished a cookbook and is working on what he calls “a home fitness thing.” So yes, he’s busy. But life is short, and, for Santos, rock and roll is ageless. “I don’t have time,” he said, “but I don’t think of it like that. I just get up every day, put one foot in front of the other… time waits for no man.”