Chef Chris Santos may have three restaurants in New York, but he’s doing his part to bring back the house party.
Santos is best known for his Lower East Side restaurant/lounge Stanton Social, and while shared plates may be the hottest trend in dining now, he’s been serving up globally inspired crowd-pleasers like fish tacos and ravioli in bite-size portions meant to be passed around since it opened back in 2005.
“This culture of ordering everything for the table and everyone sharing is becoming more and more popular,” he says. “To me, that’s always been the logical way to go.”
As a professional chef, spending decades (he’s been cooking for over 30 years) developing a repertoire of dishes only to limit guests to one appetizer, one entree and one dessert didn’t make sense to him. “I liken it to, if you love the Rolling Stones and you went to go see them in concert, but you’re only allowed to pick one song from each record they put out.”
When it comes to your guests, it’s also a natural icebreaker. “To me, it’s best to gather at a table where everyone is sharing food and everyone is encouraged to pass things around; it sort of subliminally invites a very social kind of interaction that you may not get if everyone orders their own thing and is just staring down at their plate eating their own meal.”
To help get you started on having more parties at home, he’s collected many of his iconic recipes, from French onion soup dumplings to Oreo pancakes, into a cookbook titled “Share.” More than just a collection of recipes, it’s a guide to taking the hassle out of cooking for a crowd and encourage more people to get together without needing a special occasion — like his own family did.
“My mother is not a big cook, but she was good at everything else,” he says about dedicating the book to her. “My restaurants cultivate an atmosphere of conviviality and having a good time; these are all lessons I learned from my mom.”
Here are Santos' tips for taking the stress out of your next gathering.
Parties aren’t just for dinner
“Share” has a whole section devoted to brunch, the meal everyone loves, but almost always ends up being way too much hassle. Having it at home means no waiting for tables, refills on those bottomless drinks and less pressure to get dressed up. “We’re focusing on the ‘unch’ part of brunch, you’re doing it at 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” says Santos with a laugh. “Sundays are a great day for gathering people — and who doesn’t like day drinking?”
Do drinks right
An element of the party that often gets overlooked, according to Santos, is cocktails. People will get beer and some wine, and they might have vodka and orange juice on hand, but no one puts together a cocktail thinking they’re too much work. “Share” includes a section that focuses “not just on cocktails but specifically cocktails that can be made in a batch, in advance, that you can then serve in pitchers,” says Santos. It shows a level of attention and care, without having to spend the party as a bartender.
Make your food social
Santos’ philosophy is “food should be fun to eat,” but it should also be fun to make. That means keeping you, the host, in the mix rather than in the kitchen. The recipes in “Share” remain largely unchanged from their restaurant versions, and that’s because the secret to running a popular restaurant is the same as a good dinner party: lots of prep work so that everything can be pulled together at the last minute. Also smart: choosing dishes that people can easily pitch in on, like dumplings. And if there’s something you’re terrible at or don’t want to make, there’s no shame in getting Seamless to pitch in.