Introducing Saint Anejo's newest Chef De Cuisine, Manny Santana. With a rich culinary background in Mexican cuisine introduced by his family, Manny has known that cooking was his life's passion since he was a child. We sat down with him to hear his colored story and to get to know the man behind Saint Anejo's flavorful dishes.
Where are you from?
I was born in Illinois, grew up in Texas, and eventually ended up in Knoxville with my family.
How did you find your way to Nashville?
I moved to Nashville to attend MTSU. Nashville was the perfect location because I wanted to be far from my parents but not too far. There I majored in Food Science and Nutrition and received my degree as a Nutritionist.
How were you introduced to the culinary world?
Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be a chef. I come from a very extensive culinary background, and was spoiled with amazing Mexican cuisine growing up—from tamales during Christmas to Mexican rice.
My grandfather was a pig rancher in a little town in Jalisco, Mexico, all of my uncles are butchers (one owns a restaurant), and my parents owned a tea room. Every summer since I was a little kid my parents would send me to Mexico to spend time with my grandma on the ranch. I have vivid memories of giant limes trees, onions growing everywhere, chickens, and pigs.
What attracted you to M Street?
After graduating college, I was immersed in the Nashville culinary scene where I worked with several excellent kitchen teams. I have a few friends in the industry that worked for M Street who spoke very highly of the group. I interviewed and knew it was the perfect fit.
What are you most excited for as Saint Anejo's newest Chef De Cuisine?
Everything. The verbiage here is "cantina chic", which I've never experienced in my culinary career, so that's pretty exciting for me. The plan right now is to take the staples and make them the best they can possibly be—for instance, we've updated the horchata and tres leches to make the flavors more balanced and authentic. We want from the minute you walk in the door and take your first bite of chips and salsa, for it to be the best salsa you've ever had.
What is your favorite Saint Anejo dish?
The Avocado Tacos by far. I am a big fan of that tempura beer batter—it gives an incredible effervescence and nice crispiness to it. And paired with the corn and bean relish—it's amazing.
What is your favorite thing to cook?
Growing up in Texas has shaped me into a very meat-centric chef. I love everything about cooking and flavoring different meats—the dry spices, the brining, or even making a homemade bbq sauce—those are the things that speak to me.
How would you describe your signature style of cooking?
Definitely "Southern Fusion". I'm all about taking those classics and adding an elevating twist.
What is your favorite thing to eat?
Oh man, that's hard. I would have to say Italian food because it's a great comfort food—and who doesn't love pasta?
What inspires you in the kitchen?
Definitely my background. I always look back to my favorites as a child. I've toyed with the idea of adding dishes like paella, lamb-braised tamales, or even sushi burritos. The great thing about Saint Anejo is that we aren't region-specific, so we can be Latin-infused anything.
Who is your culinary role model?
Without a doubt my mom. Also Marco Pierre White, the original Gordon Ramsay.
What's your favorite thing about being a chef?
This is the child in me talking, but the fact that you get to be the captain of your ship. I really enjoy that.
What is your favorite thing about M Street so far?
Definitely the family vibe. I appreciate that I've got Chef Steven from Kayne Prime across the street, Chef Luke from Whiskey Kitchen to my corner, Chef Tony next door at Moto, and Chef Chloe at Virago. It's one of those things that brings a different element to the worklife—this family amongst chefs. Anytime I have an idea I can run it by one of them and we can conceptualize it together.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Spending time with my daughter and son.
What is a fun fact about you?
Carlos Santana is a relative of mine. His Grandfather and my Great-Grandfather are brothers, which makes us something like 3rd or 4th cousins.
We cannot wait to watch Manny grow and learn with us at M Street. His passion for cooking and penchant for combining authentic and modern flavors has already begun to bring more spice and flair into the Saint Anejo environment.