José Andrés' beautiful fun-house of a hotel restaurant, The Bazaar, has been open for about a year and a half now, where the Spanish chef has been serving up cotton candy foie gras, little tin cans of King crab and raspberries, and olive oil pancakes to a crowd variously composed of hotel guests, locals and Lakers players. (Pau Gasol is a fellow Spaniard.)
Andrés recently took some time from his frenetic bicontinental and bicoastal schedule — the chef and his family have lived in Washington, D.C. for almost two decades now, where he runs, among his other restaurants, the highly-regarded restaurant Jaleo — to sit down with us and chat about his television show, Made In Spain, the importance of olive oil, and his adventures with Ferrán Adriá. Check back later for the second part of our interview with the James Beard Award-winning chef, and for Andrés' olive oil pancake recipe.
Squid Ink: First question, so are you going to keep doing your wonderful show, Made in Spain?
José Andrés: Is very funny my show. Because in my country for three years I had a show that had close to a 23% share. I mean, huge. No one has 23%. I was watched by a few million. I was competing with top shows that had nothing to do with cooking. I was in prime time p.m. And then one day my wife told me, Well José, it's fine if you want to become a TV boy, we go to Spain. We were making a lot of money at the time. I was endorsing Kellogg's, I was doing commercials, I'll never make more money in my entire life again. If you want to stay in Spain, we make money, we have a happy life and then you'll be a TV boy. If you want to keep being a chef and keep doing what you began in America 19 years ago, we stay here. So I followed her advice and we stayed here. Well, we've always been here but I stopped doing the show in Spain. And that is when I thought, so, TV is very useful, it seems I do okay, my destiny is to tell America about Spain. It's part of my life. So let's do this show about Spain. And I got them to do a show that was all contrary to the one I left in Spain. The one in Spain was a big money-maker, the one here is a big money-loser.
SI: Made in Spain doesn't make money?
JA: Well, it's PBS. I put my life in it. I film it in my house. But it was the best decision I ever made because I did 26 shows. But I was not doing a TV show — I was telling the story of my country to America. I was not doing it only by showing the top chefs, but by showing the woman who makes the Spanish omelet, the shepherd who wakes up every morning at 3 a.m. to take the sheep up high in the mountains where the best grass is, with the fishermen to catch the octopus when the season is open: you name it, I was there in every moment. It's telling the story of the unknown heroes.
Because chefs now, we are “chef chefs,” but these are the people who make this food revolution possible and bring the goodness of the earth right to our table. I was trying to tell the story of those other people. And in the process show what Spanish cooking is. So this was one of the best decisions, because in the process I learned about my country even more. And I became a good expert, by studying, by traveling, by meeting anyone and everyone, and the show was like an encore to all that. This year the plan is to begin the 3rd season. It's a fun show, a good show. It doesn't try to teach as much as tell a story. And I think we do that in a crazy quick way, because we do so many things in every segment. But no one knows anything about Spain, so for me it was important to open little windows. To lay the ground for anyone who comes behind. So the answer is, Yes.
L.A. has served me very well, because here I'm meeting so many good people, like directors who like the approach I have to cooking. Everyone is like, Okay, how can I help you to keep doing what you're doing? So for me, my connection between Washington and L.A. is becoming very powerful in more ways than one. Hopefully it's going to help me do what I want to do even better. So, yes, a third season. And probably there will be another show, but it has to be a show that doesn't take away from my time in the kitchen.
SI: Speaking of the kitchen, what should we have in ours? Spanish things, maybe.
JA: Well, you know, olive oil is one. I decided a long time ago that I cannot make America learn Spanish, but I can help America have Spanish products. That's a big beginning. Olive oil is a good way to begin. Ibérico ham is another one. I feel very responsible to bring in some of these good ingredients. I spent a lot of time lobbying in D.C. at the USDA with my partners in Spain.
JA: I'm a partner with them. I have a big percentage in the company. But for me that was not business; that was to bring that product to America. No one knows, but I put 5 years of my life, talking to anyone I could talk to, learning, investing in Spain. It was a small producer in the middle of nowhere, in a very rural town, creating maybe 70, 80% of the jobs in the area. So that shows you the importance of something like this. By supporting these products, you're supporting more than these products, but the lives of so many people, indirectly.
SI: You can't get the hams with the hooves on anymore, right?
JA: Ha. It's almost like taking the pig to a Korean nail lady. It's a little bit absurd. But if they are happy with that, we don't fight it. We only have to take the hoof, the outside part off. But anyway, the ham is here, and now we are bringing also fresh meat, which is great. This is part of my little contribution, to be part of bringing these products to America.
SI: So, Jamón Ibérico…
JA: Jamón Ibérico is one, the olive oil for sure. And when they're in season, the clementines. I mean, clementines in the States are good, but the clementines of Spain are astonishing. There are many centuries of the tree adapting to that climate. In California they have good citrus too. There are way too many kinds, but the clementine, the 'clemensous,' which is the Rolls Royce of the clementines. It's unbeatable. It's only a two month, a month and a half, season.
SI: Anything else?
JA: You know, a good pimentón. If you know how to use it well, the paprika is always great. And then any cheese. With those five things, you are in business.
SI: Any particular kind of Spanish cheese?
JA: Well, a good Manchego is really astonishing. Then cheese from Garocha is gold, from Catalonia, which is amazing. Idiazabal, but not the smoked one. Usually the one they sell the most, I don't know why, is the smoked one. But in Basque country it's only 10% of the product.
SI: It seems like it's a lot easier to get these products here than it used to be. You can get Marcona almonds at Trader Joe's.
JA: Yeah. Great. We are a big producer, and now they are available. You know, when we start talking about this, and then we have the conversation about local… we need to be thinking. Because sometimes we start talking without really thinking about the consequences. If everything was local local, life would be boring. And we would probably end what created certain kinds of riches through history, which was commerce with other cultures. Without commerce with other cultures, the enrichment of what you know would never happen. You would be very small in your understanding of the world.
It's so funny how we become radical sometimes. I like to be always more pragmatic. If we don't import tomatoes from the southern part of Mexico, probably the States would have even a bigger immigration problem. Because if you don't create jobs there that are sustainable, you have many more thousands of Mexicans crossing the border to try to come to reach America because they will have nothing to do. We need to be more understanding of the consequences of everything. But that doesn't mean I'm not in favor of local. We have to preach as we live. You cannot be talking about local and then your Nikes come from China and your shirt comes from South Africa, right? Hey, shut up. Leave me alone with your speeches. Me, I like to be more in the middle ground. That's where I live my life.
SI: So, tell us about cooking with Ferrán Adriá.
JA: I was very young, I was 16, 17, 18. Yes, at elBulli. Maybe for some food critics it's a sad thing that a guy like Ferrán Adriá exists. But he's a person who has moved cooking forward a few centuries. What happened is very difficult to understand for some people. To understand the legacy of Ferrán Adriá probably a few centuries are going to have to pass, is what I'm saying. Everyone will think that Ferrán Adriá is about chemistry — probably no one has understood better the communication between ingredients and the chef better than him. No one ever. When in other parts of the world we were introducing roux and flour and butter to thicken sauces, in elBulli we were already questioning why we were doing that. People may call that tradition, but we call that antiques. That's okay 50 years ago, but it's not okay anymore. When we were making sauces with the essence of the lobster, in the top restaurants in the world they were still using heavy cream sauces. So Ferrán is the person who more than anyone in the world has understood the essence of ingredients. But people don't understand that. It's not bad, no? It takes time. It's fine. Everyone gets there. But that's what he's done. He's been able to understand better than anyone the essence of cooking. And that's a very difficult thing to understand.
SI: How long were you at elBulli?
JA: Three years, in and out. But I've been going back. Ferrán and I, we speak. I have like 3 or 4 phone calls from him today. We talk a lot. Been talking for twenty-some years. He's a great man. As much praise as everyone has been giving him, still he's highly misunderstood.
SI: Do you think he'll really close the restaurant?
JA: Yeah, yeah, he's closing. It's still to be seen what [it] will become, but with him all his life he never settles for anything. It will be good for the business of cooking.
SI: Having it become a cooking school might not be a bad thing.
JA: No, no. It's good.