NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Chris Santos is riding on the current trend of small plates and food sharing at his new restaurant Beauty & Essex in New York.
The restaurant’s menu takes a page from its nearby sibling The Stanton Social, which opened in 2005. Both offer Santos’ bite-size spins on familiar fares like tacos, pierogies and French onion soups.
The 39-year-old Rhode Island native spoke to Reuters about food sharing, creating menus and his ambitions.
Q: How long did it take you to conceptualize the Beauty & Essex’s extensive menu?
A: “I started working on it in June 2009, and we opened in December 2010. I probably cooked and created about 300 different dishes during that process. Once a week I would come up with six to 10 items, spend two days preparing them and present them to my two business partners. We would eat them and have a honest dialogue on whether they are good for the menu. After I went through 300 dishes, I went back to all my notes. There were about 100 to 120 that created strong impressions and I cut them down to 40 to 50.”
Q: How does Beauty & Essex fit into this trend of sharing and small plates in New York?
A: “With Stanton Social, it’s the whole style we promote — sharing everything and everyone orders and eats communally with plates in the middle where they share everything. It becomes subconsciously a social experience. I don’t know who did that except for traditional tapas restaurants five, six years ago. In Beauty & Essex’s menu, the very first words you see are ‘start sharing.’”
Q: Why do you think this concept has grown in popularity?
A: “I think that’s the way how people want to eat. As a chef, you spend your whole life honing your skills, educating your palette, defining your own style, learning these dishes and you create your menu. In a traditional restaurant, a customer has to choose one appetizer and one entree. To me it’s so counterintuitive; it doesn’t make any sense to me at all. To me, it’s like a band you love and it has an album with 14 songs on it and you go to their concert and they play only two of those songs.”
Q: You will turn 40 in a couple of months. What are some other things you still want to accomplish?
A: “The next level for me is to start branching into other cities with restaurants. Las Vegas comes to mind. Chicago comes to mind. Miami comes to mind. What I do not want to be is someone with 27 restaurants. That means I will never ever manage them properly and be involved with them enough and I’m a very hands-on guy. I’m in the kitchen every night.”
Potato and Goat Cheese Pierogies with Caramelized Onions and Truffle Creme Fraiche
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbp canola oil
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup warm water
1 egg, beaten w/fork
Method: Combine flour, salt and baking powder in bowl and mix well. Add wet ingredients and knead by hand or with dough hook in a kitchen aid for 8-10 minutes.
Potato Filling for Pierogi:
2 large Idaho potato (peel, boil, hand mash, dry in oven, cool)
3/4 cup softened goat cheese
1 small red onion, minced and sauteed
1 tsp chopped chives
2 ounces heavy cream
salt and pepper
Method: Mix above ingredients except heavy cream. Add cream as needed to adjust consistency. (It should have the feel of stiff mashed potatoes).
1 onion sliced and cooked very slow over low heat with 3 tbsp butter. Season with salt, pepper and chopped thyme.
Truffle creme fraiche:
1 cup creme fraiche
1 tbsp white truffle oil
1 tsp chopped black truffle pieces (optional)
salt and pepper
Method: Roll dough into 1/8-inch sheets and then cut 2-inch circles out of that. Place heaping tbsp of filling onto each circle and fold into half-moon shape. Seal with beaten egg.
To serve, gently saute pierogies in olive oil, top with onions & creme fraiche.
Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia