Chef Jason Santos
Conversation with Cheryl Fenton
Images by Russ Mezikofsky
There’s a whirlwind of emotion
when we think back upon Boston’s relationship with Chef Jason Santos

First he charmed us with his startling bright blue hair peeking out from the kitchen in Davis Square’s former Gargoyles. Then he made us worry as he went fork-to-fork with Chef Gordon Ramsay’s terrifyingly biting British nature on Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen.” Then he relaxed us as we giggled about his whimsical liquid nitrogen milkshakes and hot sauce pipettes. Now the owner and executive chef at Blue Inc. on Boston’s Greenway and Abby Lane in the Theater District, Chef Santos is surprising us with how busy he’s been. But with Blue Inc.’s Superhero brunch back for a limited time in July, we thought it was time to sit him down to discover why he himself is quite the superhero on the city’s dining scene.

You're known for food that "transforms" like your dippin' dots ice cream and all your creative culinary uses for liquid nitrogen. How has opening your own restaurants transformed you?
It has changed me dramatically. It used to be just only about the food. Now it’s about the business, staff and everything else that goes along with it. I used to only have to worry about my kitchen. Now I have to worry about anything from light bulbs to carpets to broccoli. It has however taught me to appreciate a day off much more.

What are some of the most inventive dishes you've created?
These are usually the ones that became signature menu items for me. The standouts include my Black truffle dippin dots ice cream served over a butterscotch fondant cake and my Pastrami Bolognaise served over Calamari Spaghetti. The liquid nitrogen milkshakes that we serve a Blue Inc. come out smoking and guests really like them. Our biggest seller is our root beer and toasted marshmallow flavor.

I served the black truffle ice cream and butterscotch at the James Beard House and it was a huge hit there. I brought it back to Boston, and guests loved it here, too. I made the calamari spaghetti because it was a cool way to prepare calamari and it tricks the mind because it has the consistency and look of spaghetti, but it is really calamari. As for the bolognaise, it is always prepared with boar or beef, so I thought that making it with pastrami would "funk it up" a bit.

The liquid nitrogen milkshakes are fun because I love coming up with flavors that work together. You will never see a vanilla or chocolate shake on our list. We’re always looking for flavors that are more exciting. We also make a crackling that is similar to a pork rind, but our flavors are everything from saffron to tomato and even a chorizo flavored one.

(CF) With how fun your dishes can be, it's almost like your kitchen is your playground. I don't really take food too seriously. I love what I do and I love to push boundaries in life and in the kitchen. Plus I have the attention span of a goldfish and like to change things up a lot.

What drives you in the kitchen?
I love everything about it—the pressure, the timing, the fact that you get instant gratification when food hits the table and the guests take their first bites.

If you could give a personality to each of your restaurants what would each be? Abby would be a bit country, and Blue Inc. would be a bit rock ‘n roll. Abby Lane is a straightforward and approachable restaurant that caters to everyone. Blue Inc. is amped up a bit. Because it is smaller, the chefs can be more creative with the menu. It’s smaller, louder, funkier, and we can take more risks there because our guests expect us to.

Are you still teaching cooking classes at Boston University and Cambridge Rindge and Latin? How is it working with kids?
I am. Kids and adults are very different in many ways......wewill leave it at that.

How do you give back to the community and the causes that are important to you?
I have passed the torch on of being a restaurant chair for "Taste of the Nation" Share Our Strength benefit, but I am still heavily involved. It’s still my charity of choice. This is also my second year involved in "Food for Thought" Alzheimer's campaign. This is a great cause and is very personal to me because my grandmother has Alzheimer's. We as chefs definitely have the ability to increase awareness.

What was the one “take away” you learned from your participation on "Hell's Kitchen?"
Don't fuck up! Actually, I would say it's attention to detail. Gordon [Ramsey]’s standards and attention to detail are like nothing I have ever seen.

On the current menu, what are the must-try dishes for both Abby and Blue?
The Duck Confit entrée with sweet sticky rice, mangos, cashews and coconut milk at Blue Inc. and honestly our Lobster Roll at Abby is pretty sick!

What are your signature dishes?
Blue Inc.’s Duck Confit is cry-yourself-to-sleep-good and never changes on the menu. At Abby we have a few staples—one is our clam chowder. We hear a lot of "this is the best chowder is Boston" from our guests.

Anything new we can look forward to for the summer?
I’m still working on trying to get a show together. That is definitely my dream! And I may have couple of restaurant opportunities on the horizon. I may need to learn Chinese...

If you could give a personality to each of your restaurants what would each be?
“Abby would be a bit country, and Blue Inc. would be a bit rock ‘n roll.”

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