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?