Executive Chef David Santos
From gardening to raising animals to baking, David Santos was immersed in every aspect of food since a young age as the son of Portuguese immigrants. “We often traveled to Portugal to visit family, and I remember waking up with my aunt at five o’clock in the morning to help her bake bread in a wood-fired oven. Together we would start the fire and gather and mix ingredients. I loved every minute of it,” he says. At home in the United States, food remained the backbone of family life thanks to his mother’s garden and fruit trees and his father’s homemade wine.
After excelling at baseball throughout high school, Santos turned to the culinary arts and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 2001. He then traveled throughout Europe and South America, soaking up the culinary heritage of the visited countries and their cuisines rooted in peak quality seasonal ingredients. “I love creating a menu centered on ingredients that are ripe and full of flavor. I don’t believe in signature dishes because for me it’s like being handcuffed and I enjoy the challenge of creating something new.”
Driven by the same over-achieving characteristics that served him well in baseball, Santos took his culinary training to the next level, working at Bouley and Per Se, as well as at New Jersey’s most acclaimed restaurants: Nicholas and The Ryland Inn. “At Bouley it was all about the survival and performing under the most extreme conditions,” Santos says. “I have the utmost respect for Bouley’s sauce work, and my sauces are quite influenced by him today. Thomas Keller taught me everything about organization and quality. Per Se exudes everything that is beautiful about food and dining out.”
A year before opening Louro, Santos established his own culinary voice by launching Um Segredo, a series of supper clubs hosted at his Roosevelt Island home, which quickly developed a cult following.
The Portuguese word “Louro” means bay leaf, and it embodies the restaurant that Santos has dreamed about for years. “One of my fondest, food-related memories takes me back to my last trip to France, where I visited my aunt and ailing uncle. Though struggling with a heart condition, his passion for harvesting the land remained. He led me to the backyard to show off a flourishing bay plant, as he knew just how much I loved using its herbaceous leaves in my seasonings. My uncle wanted me to share in his pride of the healthy plant, and he trimmed off a few pieces for me to take home to the other members of our family. My mother, also possessing a green thumb and being a fan of bay seasoning, replanted the sprouts to create two potted trees to add to her garden. Sadly, my uncle has since passed on, but his memory thrives in the many well-seasoned, family meals that have been sprinkled with these clippings. Like his gift from the earth that often appears in my cooking, his belief of sharing the joys of life with close company similarly inspires the friendly, relaxed dining experience at Louro.”
Santos has been a guest chef at the Charleston Wine & Food Festival and the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival. He has appeared on Fox TV’s Good Day New York, CBS New York, Heritage Radio and Vice TV.