Jose Andres' Plate Is Full; Innovator Has World of Tastes

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 2, 2005 | Go to article overview

Jose Andres' Plate Is Full; Innovator Has World of Tastes


Byline: Gabriella Boston, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

At 36, Jose Andres is the chef and part-owner of seven restaurants in the Washington area, the host of a prime-time cooking show on Spanish television and the winner of numerous chef's honors, including

the 2003 James Beard Foundation's Best Chef of the Mid-Atlantic Region award and Bon Appetit magazine's Chef of the Year in 2004.

What's left? Another restaurant? Of course, says Mr. Andres. But first, a book. "Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America" comes out Tuesday.

The book, which Mr. Andres wrote with his friend Richard Wolffe, a Newsweek writer, contains about 100 recipes. Fans of Jaleo, Mr. Andres' first restaurant here, will recognize many of them: there's the gazpacho, the garlic shrimp and the paella.

"They are all simple recipes. Anyone can make them," says Mr. Andres. He's sitting at a marble-top table at his office, ThinkFoodTank, next door to Cafe Atlantico, his nuevo Latino restaurant in the Penn Quarter. This is where he and his staff work on recipe ideas for the seven restaurants.

"Jose," says one associate, "has far more ideas than we could ever make."

The office, on the 11th floor of an apartment building, has a small test kitchen, white walls covered with pictures of Mr. Andres, including ideas for the cookbook cover, computers and an eclectic mix of books in an overflowing bookcase: "The Best Recipes of the World," by Mark Bittman; "The Foods of Greece," by Aglaia Kremezi; and, of course, "El Bulli el Sabor del Mediterraneo," by Ferran Adria, Mr. Andres' mentor. Mr. Adria is considered by many foodies as one of the top chefs in the world.

After a moment's silence, Mr. Andres, who constantly fidgets - scrapes undetectable dirt off the marble table, makes a pretend-telescope with a promotional flier - backpedals a bit:

"Paella is one of the most difficult dishes to make," he says. "I would really need four pages to describe the process." In the tapas book, each recipe gets a page, and many dishes get a color picture.

"You have to watch the liquid in the dish. You have to watch the heat," he says. "The cooking time depends on so many things... humidity, low pressure, high pressure."

So, paella is both easy and difficult? Yes, Mr. Andres replies. And this is how it goes with this culinary master, one of the most respected chefs in the country, a man described by those who know him as intense, innovative, explosive, relentless, crazy, full of energy, but also serene.

He defies labels. He doesn't want to pigeonhole or be put there. Take organic produce:

"You don't need organic or local produce to make a good dish. You can make a great dish with canned food," he says.

Yet, he supports local farmers and likes to buy organic produce when possible. "But if you only buy organic food, are you closed six months out of the year?" he says.

In his book, he promotes everything Spain, from olive oil to seafood, but he says American produce and fish caught off the American coasts are exquisite.

"When Europeans first arrive, they think everything is crappy. But it's very good here," he says. "The Vidalia onion, for example, is wonderful. It is so sweet you can almost eat it like an apple."

Marrying the ultimate Spanish with the ultimate American, Mr. Andres created one of his favorite dishes: roasted Vidalia onions with Cabrales cheese.

Cabrales, a sharp blue cheese, originates in the Asturias region in northern Spain, where Mr. Andres grew up. His interest in food and disinterest in school shaped him early.

"They're probably still waiting for me to show up at school," he says and smiles.At 15, despite the minimum age being 18, he entered culinary school and never looked back. In the mid-to-late 1980s, he worked at several esteemed restaurants, including El Bulli outside Barcelona. Mr. Adria became his mentor, and Mr. …

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