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Gargoyles crowd sizzles for Santos

Posted by Marcia Dick  August 11, 2010 10:05 AM

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Hell's Kitchen2_LIV.jpg

Aram Boghosian/for the Globe

Chef contestants Salvatore Coppola, Jason "Jay" Santos, and Ed Battaglia attend a "Hell's Kitchen" finale viewing party at Gargoyle's on the Square in Somerville.

Gargoyles on the Square in Somerville is a classy place. When its colorful executive chef Jason "Jay" Santos made it to the finals of "Hell's Kitchen" season 7, the restaurant threw a garden party - or the closest you can get in a Davis Square parking lot.

An hour before Tuesday night's show time, the place was already mobbed. There were cousins (Santos is from Melrose), DJs, bartenders, regulars, and a surprising number of old friends' moms. There was Jasper White and at least two failed contenders for the "Hell's Kitchen" crown. They came from all over - 435 people in all, said doorman Kris Coombs.

And they were dressed to the nines, the best-looking crowd I'd seen all summer, in cork wedges, platforms, flat caps, cocktail sheaths, even a Victorian blouse-dress. Tables held mini lobster rolls, Greek salad, hanger steak. The porta-potties were a regal purple. It was like a fancy engagement party. When I saw a cheese table with a pineapple-top centerpiece, the illusion was complete - except that "Seinfeld" was playing on six screens with the sound off.

Me, I had frizzy hair and was wearing a T-shirt that was getting sweatier by the minute in the crush. I had never been to Gargoyles, long the nicest restaurant in Davis Square; it has always seemed like a special occasion place and somehow that occasion hasn't come.

Santos, 34, was unmistakable: blue hair, Gargoyles chef's jacket — and surrounded by people who grinned as their friends snapped photos.

Only Santos knew the outcome of "Hell's Kitchen" — he and his stepdad and mom, who brought blue Mardi Gras beads for the relatives. Even Gargoyles owner James Conforti didn't know, though the show ended in early 2009. He thought he might lose his executive chef: The grand prize is a job in London working at show host Gordon Ramsay's Savoy.

Lexi LaGuerre, a bartender friend of Santos, said his TV persona is real. "He doesn't really have a filter. He's a little arrogant … [but] he's a really nice guy," she said, citing his charitable work with Share Our Strength. His friends were showing their support in the most concrete of ways: "We all paid," she said. "Jasper White even paid. I watched him."

Santos said to me, "You have 30 seconds." Before his mouth had closed two guys grabbed him and turned him around for photos

The show finally began at 8. For a "Top Chef" fan, the Fox production values are … challenging. Intrusive voiceover! They barely show the actual cooking! When people curse, not only is it bleeped but their mouths are covered with a trashy blur.

But the audience was rapt. Santos's every move drew whistles, laughter, and shrieks. And people complain Bostonians only care about sports.
As the show proceeded, Santos's dominance grew. He won the preliminary challenge. In the kitchen, he kept cool while fellow finalist Holli Ugalde, with whom he had a showmance, flustered. "Holli, you may be attractive. However, I am going to mop the floor with you," Santos said to the camera. The Gargoyles audience hollered.

During a commercial break, a blonde shook out her hair. She's Clare McCully, the director of development at Santos's alma mater, Newbury College, with the college president, Hannah M. McCarthy, and professor Madonna Berry. "As a student he had that spark — that spark and that passion," Berry said. Plus, "I think he was really strategic" on the show. On screen, a competitor described Santos in one long fuzzy bleep. The Newbury women cracked up.

I asked Salvatore Coppola, another season 7 contestant, why he was there. A blond man interrupted and said Coppola was just there to support. Who was he? Jim McGloin of season 6, with girlfriend/former season 6er Tek Moore. They fell in love afterward, Moore said.

At last, the reveal. The line cooks came out to watch. White gripped Santos's hand. The sound effects went SHOOM. Well, then there was a commercial break and the Herald photographer stood at ease. But then they were back, and if you've read this far you probably know Ugalde won..

A wail went up. Gargoyle sous chef Jura Abragimovich mouthed something the Fox producers would bleep. Conforti announced, "We have the best [expletive] chef there is!" Cue the disco music.

"Wow," I said to Abragimovich.

"Wow is right," he said.

"Like capital wow," said Gargoyles rounds cook Brad Shannon. "That was like watching the Celtics lose to LA."

McGloin shrugged. "It's a TV show. The guy who won my season didn't deserve it … Jason's got the staying power." Cameras flashed, but people were drifting.

At the gate, Coombs wished guests goodnight. He doesn't usually work for the restaurant; his friends do, and he was helping out. I told him I'd never been to Gargoyles, thinking it was a special occasion place.

Coombs considered. On the one hand, it is "part of Davis Square prettying up its image," he said, and brings in a crowd that usually doesn't come to Somerville. On the other, every so often he stops in for a drink and something from the bar menu, and that's not expensive, though "I'm not much of a bar person," he said. He lives down the street and is a grad student at Tufts.

Finally I made another effort to talk to Santos. "Eh, I wasn't going anywhere," he said. He lives in Medford Square. "What bothered me the most was everyone was here thinking I'd won."

Contact Danielle at


Fox photo

Holli Ugalde (left) and Jason Santos seconds before the winner was revealed.

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