q&a with ryan santos

I first met Ryan Santos at Danielle DeBoe’s Dinner with Strangers a few months back. He was responsible for the creatively delicious meal we all so thoroughly enjoyed. You can find him at Please, the catering company he started, or at the wonderful Tartine working alongside the talented chef Nolan Konkoski.

1. What are the top 5 spices that should be in every home cook’s pantry? You can’t go wrong with the C’s: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne and any type of chile powder.

2. Favorite dish to make? I love the food we get to cook with my catering company, Please, and I also have a real passion for desserts—but I hate overly sweet desserts. At home, nothing beats some authentic tacos or a whole roasted chicken.

3. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland? It’s hard to just choose one, so I’ll choose many. I have a soft spot for Bar Cento—with the weird hours and travel schedule I keep, I can always count on getting a great meal there, even at one in the morning. Superior Pho is a weekly stop for pho and bahn mi. I like the highly underrated Le Petite Triangle for the steak-and-Boursin tartine and a Stoudt’s Double IPA, and also for their very convenient location at the end of my street. Then there’s Swenson’s for Galley Boys, and Lola never disappoints when I have the ability to splurge.

4. How did you become a chef? What did you want to be growing up? I don’t have a standard culinary background. I had to learn to cook out of necessity while working on my bachelor’s in graphic design—I have a pretty severe case of Crohn’sDisease. In college, I was put on a strict diet (no gluten, sugar, alcohol or dairy) in a last-ditch effort to find something that worked. The diet didn’t really help, but at the time gluten-free products weren’t as widely available as they are now. I had to get creativewhen I got bored with meat and vegetables, so I learned to cook from scratch to control the ingredients in my diet. Ever since then, cooking became my passion, and I gave up graphic design as a profession. My culinary education has just come from reading, studying and working in the field. I don’t think I’d call myself a chef quite yet.

At various parts of my life, I’ve wanted to be a professional baseball player, graphic designer, gallery owner and farmer in Kentucky.

5. Where did you grow up? Favorite meal from your childhood? I grew up about an hour south of Cleveland in a little town called Canal Fulton. Otherwise known as the home of about 10 pizza places at any given point. So let’s just say I loved pepperoni pizza from Don Brand’s in Canal Fulton… and mashed potatoes.

6. I can’t live without ________________________? Netflix, Howard Stern on Sirius and my glasses.

7. What TV show do you never miss? Lost (R.I.P.), True Blood

8. Favorite guilty pleasure? A cold can of Coke. I also have to have  regular interventions with myself regarding my Five Guys/Swenson burger habit.

9. Favorite thing about Cleveland? If you were mayor a day, first thing you’d change? I love that I live within walking and biking distance of the lake, downtown, and nature via the towpath. Also, the fact that I don’t need roommates to cover my rent is pretty nice. I’d love to see the city give low- or no-interest start-up loans to un-established creative entrepreneurs to redevelop the flats. I know it sounds overly idealistic, but Cleveland has a huge chance to attract creatives with all the vacant buildings in the city. What if the flats became a strip for young creative chefs, artists, performers? It was all the rage when I was young, and I’d love to see it flourish again. Cleveland could follow in the footsteps of cities like Portland and Austin by attracting creatives and giving them a place to start their dreams. In cities where they’ve done this, the local economy improves tremendously.

10. What restaurant in another city do you wish was here? Momofuku Ssam Bar, a Jeni’s Ice Cream Shop and any good no-frills dine-in pizza place. Seriously Cleveland, we have no good pizza!

11. If you could be any chef for a day, which one would it be? I’d love to havethe local knowledge and creative thinking of René Redzepi.

12. Last meal on Earth? Superior Pho bahn mi, pizza from Galluch’s in Akron, hanger steak and a peach milkshake.

13. Your approach to food could be summed up as? Sweet and savory.

14. Biggest challenge working in a restaurant? What’s one dish you’d like to see on the menu at Tartine that currently isn’t? Nolan is great about letting us pitch dishes for the menu, and in our monthly wine dinners we really get to play around with different ideas. But there’s a lot we’d both like to see on the menu that’s prohibited by our limited kitchen setup, which is our biggest challenge. With only an oven and a single-induction burner, it takes some interesting planning. If it were up to me, I’d like to skew the menu towards more French-Vietnamese influences during the spring and summer.

15. Care to share an easy recipe? This is one of the easiest, but yet most asked about dishes we’ve made.  It can pretty much be adapted to any flavors you want, here I’ll share the recipes for the two seasonal flavors, chamomile & thyme, as well as cucumber.

Chamomile & Thyme Butter

4 cups heavy cream
1 teabag chamomile (we used chamomile from city roast @ wsm)
6 sprigs fresh thyme

Combine all in a pot over low heat. Slowly bring up to a simmer. Once it reaches a simmer, turn off heat, cover, steep 20 minutes. Strain cream and salt to taste. Refrigerate until cold. (I also suggest refrigerating your food processor blade if its detachable.) Add cold blade and cream to food processor and run on high. Pay attention as the cream thickens and reaches a whip stage and then breaks; watch carefully as it happens quickly. It should thicken to a soft butter like consistency with some loose water.  At this point drain the liquid (reserve it) and process solids until smooth.  If it doesn’t smooth completely, add some reserved liquid. At this point you have a soft butter, and you can eat/spread it on whatever you like.

If you’d like to form it, I use square ice cube molds, but you can use any mold you like really and refrigerate until solid.

Cucumber Butter

4 cups heavy cream
1 seedless cucumber

Follow instructions above. Get creative! Flavor your cream with anything you’d like and enjoy homemade flavored butters.

On a related note, if you’re interested in attending, but more importantly, hosting, a Dinner with Strangers, we’re always looking for new venues to have them in. Kitchen isn’t necessary, just the ability to hold 25 people.  Email: please@pleasetoeatyou.com

16. Why did you decide to start your own company and what can you offer that others may not? I started Please to push myself creatively with food and to continue to teach myself to become a better cook. I also felt the food we wanted to do with Please was unique for the area, and that all of us coming from non-traditional backgrounds in terms of cooking gives us a unique and fresh perspective  to cooking. The difference between Please and other catering outfits is that we specialize in catering smaller, more intimate events for anywhere from 5 to 50 people. Multi-course dinner parties, hors d’ oeuvres, craft cocktails, catered picnics, beer pairings, and anything and everything else in between.