Celebrity Chef Jason Santos Dishes on Boston's Culinary Scene

With three restaurants, a new book and frequent TV appearances, Santos continues to dream big.

Restaurateur, chef, television guest and, now, author—Jason Santos wears many hats, and food is the theme that links them all. Following his “Hell’s Kitchen” run in 2010, Santos plunged head-first into the restaurant business and hasn’t looked back.

Sitting at the helm of three restaurants plus juggling TV appearances, including as a regular on Paramount Network’s “Bar Rescue,” a show that tries to save failing restaurants, Santos still made time for his latest venture, the book “Buttermilk & Bourbon.” Named after his restaurant in Back Bay, the book features recipes from his New Orleans-inspired spot.

When asked about the impetus behind the book, in classic, give-it-all-you’ve-got fashion, Santos says: “It’s simple, I love this restaurant and the food that we serve so much that I absolutely just had to share it with everyone.”

We caught up with him to learn more about his city and the food scene.

How has Boston’s culinary scene changed in the past decade or so?

There are so many restaurants to choose from nowadays that just having good food is not enough. Guests’ expectations are higher than ever, and it is up to us to deliver. We are now in the business of creating reactions and giving the guest an experience to remember.

What about this city inspires your cooking?

The camaraderie of the restaurant business. We are all friends and we are all each other’s biggest fans.

You started the restaurant Buttermilk & Bourbon to bring New Orleans flavors to Boston. What drew you to that cuisine?

The city of New Orleans is on a level of its own, from the food to the hospitality to the lively atmosphere. I believe there is nothing like it in Boston, so that is why I wanted to bring a little slice of that here.

How would you describe each of your restaurants? And what type of crowd does each one cater to?

Abby Lane—a great pre- and post-theater crowd that is looking for a lively restaurant. Citrus & Salt—coastal Mexican food that has a lighter menu, with phenomenal cocktails and decor. Buttermilk & Bourbon—Southern-inspired restaurant with a heavy influence of New Orleans and the best biscuits you have ever had.

How does dreaming to be a chef compare to the reality of being in the restaurant business?

If I didn’t dream, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

You have returned to “Hell’s Kitchen” and are a regular on “Bar Rescue.” What’s your take on the ever-growing shows that focus on the culinary industry? And is there more than what meets the eye?

It’s actually all pretty real. I find there to be a ton of restaurants and bars that get opened by people who think it’s fun, but not realizing the sacrifice and the amount of work it takes to be successful at it.

Your advice for aspiring chefs?

Work ethic is key. This seems to be lacking a lot in the workforce nowadays. Everybody wants to take the easy way and cut corners. To be the best, you have to do your best.

Where would you take out-of-towners to dine, besides your restaurants?

I would take them to Chinatown for dim sum.

What are your favorite things to do/see/experience in Boston?

I still love walking around Faneuil Hall, then heading to the North End for dinner. It never gets old.

What’s next for you?

Opening another restaurant this year and I have some really big TV stuff coming up, as well as just enjoying the great life that I currently have.

Kalpana Ramgopal
About the author