CHEF Q&A: Eric Santiago, Primo


Eric Santiago is the Chef de Cuisine at Primo by Melissa Kelly at JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes. The menu uses produce from local farms and from the restaurant’s on-site organic garden to create robust flavors inspired by the coastal regions of Italy, Spain and France.

What’s your favorite local restaurant other than your own (and why)? Rooster and the Till (Tampa). They have a modern global cuisine.

What’s your go-to meal at home? In my home I always have rice, beans, and my favorite – fried pork chops. In order to have great beans you have to soak dry beans one day in advance, then you have to make a sofrito which consists of onion, peppers, garlic, cilantro and “aji dulce’ sweet peppers – this is the base to get great flavors.  Finally, adding a good ham stock along with pork feet –without it in my opinion impacts the taste of the rest of the dish.

Where do you shop locally for interesting ingredients? I like to visit farmers markets because I know the product is very fresh.

Which kitchen gadget could you not live without? I like to always have a pepper mill, I like the aroma and taste of fresh black pepper. I also have a wooden mortar, which I use to crush fresh garlic.

What was your favorite bagged lunch as a kid? Homemade chicken sandwiches with mayonnaise.

What’s your most guilty junk-food pleasure? Bacon cheese burgers with salty fries.

What 3 things are in your fridge at all times? (And why do you need them?)

Limes: I like to have these at all times because I can use it in a variety of dishes and drinks.

Broccoli: I love making broccoli cream on my days off.

Chicken Thighs: I utilize them various cooking methods including stewed, fried, skewers or soups.

Is there anything else about yourself you’d like to share? Coming from Puerto Rico and now living in the states, I like to cook native dishes from the island; when I go to gatherings with friends and family I am typically the one taking the lead presenting great food that represents the island.