‘Chopped’ Chef Chris Santos Forges Path In Metal

chris-santos“The first thing that comes to mind is how un-metal this background music is,” chef, restauranteur, and metal label founder Chris Santos starts. We’re sitting with him in the curtained off gold lounge in the basement of Vandal, a Bowery must-visit restaurant for the hungry art lover, as Justin Timberlake plays over the PA.  

Despite the pop beats blaring, we’re here to talk about the famous chef’s love for heavier music, from grindcore to hair metal.

“By the time I was 13 or 14, pretty much everything I was buying seemed to have the Metal Blade logo on it,” Santos shares. “Probably my favorite thing to do in the world is to go see live metal. Over many years, I’ve just become really fortunate and made a lot of contacts and made a lot of friends. I’ve been playing drums for like, 30 years. I’m just kind of a dork about metal. I’m constantly scouring the internet for new stuff. I’ll jump on a plane to go see a show somewhere.”

While the millions of viewers who watch the Food Network show “Chopped” would assume that food and dining is his biggest love, they would be wrong. True, the chef has been working in the restaurant industry since he was 13-years-old, but he’s also been an avid metal fan for just as long and keeps himself highly involved in that world.

“The cool thing about this label is I’m signing bands that I like. It’s not a money grab. I don’t need to make a dime off this. It’s more about giving bands exposure and a voice that they might not normally have.”

“One of the first shows I ever saw was Dark Angel and Possessed,” he explains. “I was 14-years-old and there was a big brawl that broke out and I was hooked. Fast forward 20 years and I’ve just gotten to know a lot of people and gotten to be really friendly with a lot of bands.

“I started to work with Jägermeister a few years ago. Two summers ago for the Mayhem Festival I went on tour, they gave me my own 45-foot bus and I was on tour for three weeks. Every day I would start the Main Stage, cohost with Jill Janus from Huntress and then I would bring Amon Amarth on stage. At the end of the night, I would either do barbecues for all the bands or I would do – Rob Zombie was coheadling that year – so I would do a private artist dinner for him or Five Finger Death Punch. Now I’m best friends with Kerry King from Slayer.” 


The incredibly skilled chef’s involvement in the metal scene only grew from there. Despite having four, going on five restaurants under his ownership, a line of sauces, a home workout product in development, laboring over his first cook book, and of course starring as a judge on “Chopped”, Santos still found time to work with Metal Blade Records and eventually launch sister label Blacklight Media.

Santos met Metal Blade founder Brian Slagel just five years ago, and since then the two became instant friends and business partners. “I brought him four different bands that he ended up signing – Candiria, Mother Feather, If These Trees Could Talk, and then Good Tiger. He was just like, ‘You know, we should do a label together.’ He wouldn’t leave it alone so eventually we launched Blacklight Media.” The new label launched earlier this year in March with the rerelease of progressive metal band Good Tiger’s first record.

“I’m here to try to shed light on those more niche genres and stand up for them.”

“The cool thing about this label is I’m signing bands that I like. It’s not a money grab. I don’t need to make a dime off this. It’s more about giving bands exposure and a voice that they might not normally have.”

Sitting in the unbelievably gorgeous Vandal, the genuineness of this statement could not be more obvious. The Bowery restaurant is a masterpiece, boasting a seemingly endless amount of rooms each decorated in its own style by renowned street artists from around the world, including work from Shephard Fairey (OBEY). The venue, dedicated to serving gourmet street food from across the world, is like a modern version of Willy Wonka’s magical Chocolate Factory, and Santos is its madly inspired caretaker. Clearly, success is something he isn’t missing out on.

“I’m able to do things to get bands exposure that maybe are not traditional,” he says. “Right after the new year we’re talking about doing a concert with all the Blacklight bands as well as some Metal Blade bands and putting on a big show here in New York and having it all be for charity.” The charity he would be working with is called City Harvest, an organization which delivers food to homeless and homebound people. Santos has been working closely with this charity for upwards of 11 years. 

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“Really when you sign to Blacklight Media,” Santos clarifies, “you’re signing to Metal Blade. It’s my label and I decide who I want to sign to it, but they also get all the perks of being a Metal Blade band. We’re able to look at bands that are cool but maybe aren’t what we would traditionally see as a Metal Blade band. I’m here to try to shed light on those more niche genres and stand up for them.”

In addition to growing the new label and exploring the full spectrum of heavy music, Santos says that he would one day love to start a music festival. Currently in his mid-40s, the chef feels as though the culinary chapter of his life may soon give way to a more musical one.

“I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 13. I love it, I really do. Really, I’m hoping 10 years from now I’ll be able to get out before I’m too old and really just do [music]. I want to develop this label and spend the second half of my life being behind this label.”

After Chef Santos details all of his business and humanitarian ventures, boasting a very full life several other people couldn’t have accomplished in one lifetime, the obvious question arises:

“Do you ever breathe?”

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