By Chrystal Parker | Photography by Ashley Sky Walker
No one is debating: The pickle juice was RoblÃ© Aliâ€™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 RoblÃ© & 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 nightâ€™s revelry and his upcoming birthday party, Aliâ€™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 â€œmeanâ€ 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, â€œChris wasnâ€™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, â€˜Iâ€™m gonna come back for you.â€™ And he did.â€
Santos remembers being impressed with â€œthe young buckâ€ because, â€œhe was just super interested. Asking a million questions. Thatâ€™s what I liked about him from the start.â€ This inquisitiveness, ambition, and talent is why heâ€™s brought Ali on board for every restaurant project heâ€™s worked on since. And perhaps the ultimate vote of confidence: Ali catered his wedding.