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". His hyperactivity enables him to fit in everything he proposes, as if the days were 36 hours long. 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.
His first contact with the US was during his military service, which he spent working in the galley of the Spanish navy's training ship, Juan Sebastián Elcano. That first visit must have made an impression because, years later, once he had become a professional chef, he set forth with the plan to take quality Spanish cuisine to lovers of good food on the other side of the Atlantic.
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
But then came the turning-point, with the risky adventure of the American dream. Years after opening Jaleo his first restaurant there, today he is rightly proud of being the Spanish chef who appears most frequently in the US media, and of having seven restaurants altogether (four of them of Spanish inspiration) in the US – three Jaleos, and one tiny restaurant called the Minibar where he offers a tapa-based menu that takes its inspiration from haute cuisine and the experimental avant-garde.
On arrival in the US, his advisor was Carmelo Bocos, a Spanish chef who was making a name for himself at the El Cid restaurant in New York. He explained what a good Spanish tapas restaurant on American soil should offer, and his advice seems to have been sound. At the three Jaleo restaurants run by José Andrés (in Washington, Maryland and Virginia), diners can choose from a varied menu of tapas and dishes that are 100% Spanish, from the ingredients to the preparation. They can also marry the dish of their choosing with a wine or liqueur imported from Spain. The name Jaleo comes from a painting by the US artist, John Singer Sargent, depicting a festive scene with flamenco musicians. This painter was a contemporary and good friend of one of Spain's best-known artists at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, Joaquín Sorolla, who also spent time in the United States working for the Hispanic Society
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 (made in Extremadura), pimentón (a Spanish type of paprika) and Cabrales blue cheese (from Asturias) 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 and also distributes daily meals in many American cities. Its aim is to fight poverty and exclusion using cooking as its tool.
But José Andrés is always thinking up new ideas and projects. 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 Spain and Spanish gastronomy playing a leading role. Proof of this is the food on offer at Rojo y Blanco in The Bazaar complex at the SLS Beverly Hills hotel in Los Angeles. Rojo y Blanco bears the personal trademark of José Andrés, and offers customers the possibility of a menu of classic tapas, another of updated tapas or a mix of the two. Special recommendations include acorn-fed Ibérico ham and Spanish Manchego, Idiazabal and goat’s milk cheeses, alongside some of José Andrés's avant-garde creations, influenced by the creativity of Ferran Adrià.
Living Las Vegas
After a resounding success in Beverley Hills with his venue The Bazaar, José Andrés has continued to conquer the palates of American diners. His next stop was Las Vegas, where in 2011 he opened three premises in the splendid The Cosmopolitan Hotel. As well as a new branch of his famous Jaleo, a temple of Spanish cuisine in the United States (in the Las Vegas venue he has set aside a specific area for cooking traditional-style Valencian paella, using rice from the Albufera lake and orange tree wood), José Andrés has amazed gourmet fans by opening È 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. Where did this idea come from? José Andrés responds: "In the period when Felipe II was on the throne, the monarch sent Spanish galleons (merchant ships) all over the Pacific Ocean from China to Mexico". Monday 9th May 2011 was more than a special day for José Andrés. Spanish chef José Andrés, known for his innovative cooking and credited in popularizing tapas in America, won the James Beard Award for outstanding US chef, one of the most prestigious awards a chef based in the United States can receive. Congratulations!
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), located just a block away.
Spanish Food Truck in Washington DC?
The successful Spanish chef José Andrés had been toying with this 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 the U.S. capital, Washington DC. Starting March 2012, from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, those who visit Pepe, the name of this food truck devised by José Andrés, may choose a variety of sandwiches including the Butifarra Burger (Spanish pork burger with alioli and brava sauce), Escalivada (roasted eggplant, red peppers, sweet onions, spinach and red mojo), Pepito de Ibérico (seared Ibérico pork and Serrano ham with roasted green peppers, caramelized onions and alioli), Spanish Grilled Cheese (Manchego, Murcia, Valdeón, Membrillo and fresh goat cheese), Jamón Serrano and Queso Manchego (Serrano ham and Manchego cheese) or Pollo Frito (fried chicken breast with lettuce, piparra peppers, alioli and brava sauce).
The collaboration between José Andrés and SLS Hotels continued with its Miami opening. Jose Andrés is the SLS Hotels Culinary Director, and is in charge of the food and beverage programs within the premises of the historic Art Deco building on Collins Avenue.