Spanish Food Ambassador to the US
Text: Rodrigo García Fernández /©ICEX
Translation: Jenny McDonald /©ICEX
Image: Spanish chef José Andrés
José Andrés is one of the most active proponents of Spanish gastronomy, yet he is thousands of miles from his home country. Spain and its culinary culture are now more familiar to the US public thanks to the efforts and determination of this great fan of cuisine "made in Spain". He never stops working, drawing up new projects and implementing them, his main aim being to take the quality, flavor and spirit of Spanish traditional and avant-garde cooking to the US.
When asked, José Andrés never misses an opportunity to mention the name of his maestro, Ferran Adrià, a chef he looks up to and considers a good friend. Andrés was born in Asturias on the northern coast of Spain but studied catering in Barcelona. That was where he began to work professionally as a chef: first in the restaurant owned by Jean Louis Neichel, then at elBulli, both of which instilled in him their professionalism and creativity.
Jaleo, his springboard to success
On arrival in the US, his advisor was Carmelo Bocos, El Cid restaurant in New York. He explained what a good Spanish tapas restaurant on American soil should offer. Then he made it to DC to work with Rob wilder and Roberto Alvarez’s Proximo restaurants. Heading up the kitchen at Jaleo, he helped create one of the first critically and commercially successful tapas restaurants in the country, setting the standard for other Spanish and small plate restaurants to follow. Mediterranean-inspired Zaytinya followed soon after and then Oyamel Cocina Mexicana. In 2003 he opened his innovative minibar by josé andrés. In 2006, José and Rob transformed Proximo restaurants into ThinkFoodGroup.
In late 2007, he signed a contract with SBE Hotel Group and designer Philippe Starck to launch SLS Hotels, a hotel chain in which he takes responsibility for the food and catering, with Spanish gastronomy playing a leading role, including the signature destination restaurant The Bazaar by José Andrés. The intimate chef’s tasting room, Saam, inside the Bazaar in Beverly Hills, was also named a Top Ten Most Memorable Dining Experience by the LA Times food critic. The second outpost of the SLS Hotel made its debut in Miami’s South Beach in 2012.
Living Las Vegas
His next stop was Las Vegas, where in 2010 he opened three premises in The Cosmopolitan Hotel. As well as a new branch of his famous Jaleo, José Andrés has amazed gourmet fans by opening é by José Andrés, a premises with only 8 seats where you can try a menu consisting of 15-20 dishes featuring imported products, the majority of which are Spanish. And if that wasn't enough, he has also opened China Poblano in Las Vegas, where the menu combines Chinese and Mexican food. After promoting and showing Spanish cuisine to US foodies, he embraced the culture of American diversity opening restaurants outside his native comfort zone, launching a pop-up restaurant, America Eats Tavern, in conjunction with What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?, an exhibit at the National Archives (June 10, 2011- January 3, 2012).
José Andrés had been toying with an idea for some years: take advantage of the popularity of street food in America to present fresh produce, cheeses and sausages from Spain to pedestrians in Washington DC. Starting March 2012, those who visit Pepe, the name of this food truck, may choose a variety of sandwiches including the Butifarra Burger (Spanish pork burger with alioli and brava sauce), Escalivada, Pepito de Ibérico (seared Ibérico pork and Serrano ham with roasted green peppers, caramelized onions and alioli), or Spanish Grilled Cheese (Manchego, Murcia, Valdeón, Membrillo and fresh goat cheese).
Projects beyond the kitchen
José Andrés’s drive to teach the US about Spanish products reached one of its peaks when he travelled all round Spain filming a series of 26 programs, broadcast in 2008 and 2009, showing landscapes, recipes and typical products for the viewers of the PBS TV channel. The list of ingredients that are always available at his restaurants includes La Serena cheese, pimentón and Cabrales blue cheese although, in his opinion, garlic and onions are the prima donnas of Spanish gastronomy. His favorite dishes include Bacalao ajoarriero (salt cod in a tomato and red pepper sauce) and the gazpacho made by his Andalusian wife Patricia.
José Andrés, who received recognition in 2006 from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington as Chef of the Year, is one of the managers of the DC Central Kitchen foundation which offers culinary job training to homeless and low-income people. As a frequent visitor of the White House, he is also a supporter of First Lady Michelle Obama´s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign for which he has held healthy cooking demonstrations.
In November of 2010, Spain’s Ministry of Culture recognized José with the prestigious Order of Arts and Letter medallion, honoring his efforts to promote Spanish culture abroad. Monday 9th May 2011 he won the James Beard Award for outstanding US chef, one of the most prestigious awards a chef based in the United States can receive. And in September 2013, José was awarded the Hispanic Heritage Award by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation making him the first chef in the history of the awards to be recognized.
His last project to become real has been José Andrés Foods, owned by him and his ThinkFoodGroup. José Andrés Foods brings a hand-selected assortment of Spanish culinary products to the American marketplace, focusing on top artisanal producers who use only the best of the land and sea.