By Chrystal Parker | Photography by Ashley Sky Walker
No one is debating: The pickle juice was Roblé Ali’s idea. The newly famous chef, who is known nearly as much for his baby face as he is for his hit Bravo show, Chef Roblé & Co., thought it would be a good idea to do whiskey shots and pickle juice shooters at Tribeca eatery Super Linda. But with the previous night’s revelry and his upcoming birthday party, Ali’s thinking his liver might need a break.
His friend and dining buddy, fellow chef Chris Santos, is in full agreement. The owner of New York hot spots Beauty & Essex and The Stanton Social, and the “mean” judge on the Food Network hit Chopped, is on day one of a strict training regimen. And shots of whiskey, even with a liquid vegetable chaser, are not part of the plan.
These New York culinarians du jour may be able to exercise restraint, but theirs is a friendship of casual familiarity and no-holds-barred honesty. They first met a little over a decade ago when Ali, who grew up in Houston and Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was a recent Culinary Institute of America grad working at New York catering outfit Abigail Kirsch. Santos had just shuttered his celebrated restaurant Wyanoka when a mutual friend called on him to become interim chef at the catering company.
Ali recalls, “Chris wasn’t cooking like a lot of these catering chefs. He was cooking like a real chef. Taking his time, getting the most out of every ingredient. And I was like, just in awe. When he left he was like, ‘I’m gonna come back for you.’ And he did.”
Santos remembers being impressed with “the young buck” because, “he was just super interested. Asking a million questions. That’s what I liked about him from the start.” This inquisitiveness, ambition, and talent is why he’s brought Ali on board for every restaurant project he’s worked on since. And perhaps the ultimate vote of confidence: Ali catered his wedding.