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Chef Chris Santos Talks All Things Bourbon and His Love of Metal Music

Chef Chris Santos is known as a judge on the notable show Chopped and a chef and restauranteur around his old stomping ground of New York City. But he is also a lover of all things rock and heavy metal. Unsurprisingly, he will co-host the Culinary Stage at this year’s Bourbon & Beyond Festival.

Santos will be sticking around for both Bourbon & Beyond and Louder than Life Festivals to see all the amazing rock bands on the bill. The Travel Addict caught up with Santos to discuss all things Bourbon and some of his picks for must-see musical acts at the festivals.

What are you most looking forward to at the Bourbon & Beyond Music Festival?

Oh, boy, that’s such a tough question. I’ve been to Danny Wimmer presents festivals many times over the years as a guest and always thought that it would be a really fun to get more involved in do something that’s gives more value to the fans.

I’m just really excited to be participating and there are so many great bands playing to see as well.  I’m also looking forward to interacting with fans as well. I’m going to be co-hosting the culinary stage with Chef Ed Lee and some of my dear friends are going to be working on that stage including Chef Amanda Freitag.

Do you have a favorite bourbon and a favorite bourbon cocktail?

Everyone’s going to say Pappy, right? I love bourbon. If I had to pick a favorite, I would say Basil Hayden, which is not the rarest thing in the world, but it’s just a great sipper.

Is it cliché to say a bourbon Old-Fashioned? It’s classic for a reason. Right? I get to travel quite a bit and get to eat at some great restaurants. I like that restaurants have taken the old-fashioned and turned it into a signature cocktail by making it their own and updating it in a way or just doing a different variation on it. I like to discover new kinds of interpretations of the classic.

More and more festivals are combining food and music experiences. Who would be your dream rock and roll cooking collaboration?

I’ve missed out on an opportunity to do this a couple of times because my schedule wouldn’t allow it when I’ve been invited to cook with Dave Grohl. He’s got this big giant smoker, and he’s a big smoked meats guy.

I recently met him not too long ago, and he was super nice guy. The next time the invite comes in to collaborate with him at a party and get on the smoker with him, I’m doing it. I don’t care what’s on the calendar, I’m cancelling it. He’ll just show up places with that smoker and just start cooking.

What bands are you most looking forward to seeing at Bourbon & Beyond or Louder Than Life?

I’m a big Greta Van Fleet fan and I actually had the opportunity to see them in New York a couple of years ago and then meet them. I’m doing an activation at Bourbon & Beyond, where two of the brothers are going to compete against each other for like the ultimate burger battle. Kings of Leon is another band that I really love, so I’m excited to see them.

Of course, being a metalhead, I’m super excited for the entire lineup at Louder Than Life. There are too many bands to mention. In addition to kind of the no-brainers, like Bring Me the Horizon or KISS or Slipknot, there’s a newer band called Orbit Culture that I’m super excited to see. They’ve become my new favorite band, and they’re playing Louder than Life.

Tell me about your record label Blacklight Media.

It’s a boutique heavy metal record label. It was started in 2017 as a collaboration between myself and Brian Slagel. Brian is the founder, CEO and owner of Metal Blade Records, which is the largest independent heavy metal record label in the world. They are celebrating 40 years in business this year.

He is credited with discovering Metallica and giving Slayer their first big break. I knew who he was when I was about 15 years old. We met a decade ago when mutual friends introduced us at a Slayer concert in New York City. We became instant best friends.

In NYC, Brian and I would go out to eat and then we’d go back to my house and open some wine and I would throw some music on for him to hear. He started signing bands based on my recommendations. And after like the fourth or the fifth one, he said we should just do a label together.

Music has always been kind of a hobby of mine. My late-night way to decompress from work is to kind of go down a deep rabbit hole of music. I said no for a long time because I thought it would be impossible with my schedule but he convinced me that they would do most of the heavy lifting. And here we are.

We’re about five years in. We’ve got about a dozen bands and we have some really great talent worldwide with bands from Spain, Norway, United Kingdom and of course all over the United States. I love it and I’m really proud of it.

What’s more challenging to navigate the music industry or the restaurant industry?

That’s a tough question. If it was pre-pandemic, I would easily say the music industry, mostly because I’m new to it. But the restaurant industry has been very hard to navigate with post pandemic supply chain issues and labor issues. It’s been really challenging putting the restaurants back together.

Stay tuned for our second part of our interview with Chef Chris Santos.

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