- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

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. Andres now sends his students to his old teacher.

“I spent a year with Ferran Adria in Spain, and it was amazing,” says Katsuya Fukushima, head chef at Cafe Atlantico. “It was like being Luke Skywalker and meeting Yoda, my teacher’s master.”

At 19, Mr. Andres moved to New York and started working at the now-defunct, Barcelona-based restaurant El Dorado Petit.

“It was a wonderful restaurant, one of the best Spanish restaurants in New York,” says Pilar Vico, director of marketing and public relations for the Tourist Office of Spain in Manhattan.

At El Dorado Petit, Mr. Andres rose from sous chef to chef quickly and started experimenting with new ingredients, techniques and presentations.

“He was already an innovator,” says Ms. Vico, who has been to all of Mr. Andres’ seven Washington-area restaurants, which include the three Jaleos; Zaytinya, serving meze, or small plates of Turkish, Greek and Lebanese; Oyamel, which offers Mexican food, again on small plates; Cafe Atlantico; and the Minibar — within Cafe Atlantic — a tour de force of small dishes.

Which is Ms. Vico’s favorite?

“I can’t tell you, because I work for the Tourist Office of Spain,” she says and laughs, “but I can tell you that Jaleo has more variety of tapas than any tapas bar in Spain.”

In 1993, Mr. Andres moved to Washington, where he now lives with his wife and three daughters, ages 6 and 4 years and 18 months. Shortly thereafter, he opened Jaleo, helping introduce Americans to the small dish, which they, for the most part, have received with open mouths.

“If people criticize the small size, I take that as a compliment. If anything, people need to eat less,” Mr. Andres says.

He says there is no right or wrong way to order tapas. Some people are content with one or two dishes, others want five or six, he says.

Mr. Andres also counts Spanish Ambassador Carlos Westendorp, who has been to the seven restaurants, as one of his fans. Mr. Westendorp says he goes to Jaleo if he feels homesick, to Oyamel or Zaytinya if he feels like traveling.

“But if I really want to surprise a small bunch, no more than four, of selected friends, we book for an unforgettable experience in Cafe Atlantico’s Minibar,” Mr. Westendorp says.

While many of Mr. Andres’ menu options can be considered innovative, the food at the Minibar takes that concept to the next level. Some call it avant- garde cuisine, others call it creative cooking.

Mr. Andres says it blends science and art, creating such visually appealing dishes as cotton candy foie gras or deconstructed clam chowder. The Minibar only serves about a dozen diners Tuesday through Saturday. The diners get special attention from the chef who serves dozens of bite-size dishes a la avant-garde. How about chocolate foie gras truffles?

But the chef will not be Mr. Andres. At this point, he is the mastermind behind the restaurants but seldom cooks for guests.

“I’m the coach of the team,” he says. “I show them how to cook something, and then they become better at it than me and I don’t have a problem with that. … People might laugh, but maybe I’m not the best artisan.”

He obviously is a winning coach. Not only has Jaleo done very well — there are now three Jaleos (downtown, Bethesda and Arlington) — but he has mastered and made his own other ethnic cuisines, such as Mexican, Turkish and Greek. He attributes this ability to his willingness to take risks, his general but deep interest in cooking and cooking techniques and his extensive travels to Turkey, Greece and Mexico to learn the foods.

“I don’t think of restaurants as a business, but I think of them as somewhere to display the best things you’ve collected in your special memory box — you know the kind of box where children collect secret letters and tickets to their first baseball game. … When I’ve collected enough good things in that box, it’s a good time to open a new restaurant.”

And when is that?

“I don’t know. When I’m ready.”

But the next restaurant will be different, that he knows. It will be smaller and he will be cooking, he says. The food will be avant-garde, resembling that of Minibar. He says this will be his dream restaurant.

In the meantime, however, his plate — and it is not small in this case — is overflowing. Besides the restaurants, the television show (which has him traveling to Spain almost weekly), cooking competitions and shows, and a book tour he is planning to launch a magazine in the spring to accompany the television show, “Vamos a Cocinar,” which could be translated as “Let’s Cook.”

“Vamos” has become very popular, and it is not uncommon that Mr. Andres gets stopped on the streets of Madrid, where the show is produced. Besides Spain, the show is aired around the world on TVE Internacional, and Mr. Andres frequently receives e-mails from fans from such faraway places as Germany and Equador.

His friends worry about this full-throttle approach to life.

“I fear for him because he’s working too hard,” Ms. Vico says.

“[I would tell him to] slow down, boy,” says Mr. Westendorp.

“I used to come over to his house for dinner all the time, but now he keeps me so busy, and himself, too,” says Mr. Fukushima.

Despite his busy schedule, Mr. Andres finds time to spend with his family. On a recent Sunday, he even had time to ruin his daughters’ handmade aioli.

“They were so patient,” he says. “They’d been working on it for an hour. I said I would help them. And I messed it up. … They were very upset. They said, ‘You broke it.’”

Even a master can break an aioli.

• • •

Here are three recipes from Mr. Andres’ “Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America.”

Tichi’s Gazpacho(Gazpacho al estilo de Tichi)

This recipe actually belongs to Patricia Andres, who grew up in Andalucia, the cold-soup capital of the world. Mr. Andres says his wife doesn’t like to cook generally, “but one thing she cooks like the gods is gazpacho.

“This is her recipe. It’s also one of the reasons I married her,” he says in the book.

Mr. Andres says yellow or green tomatoes will make a cook more creative and surprise the guests.

The garnish can be simplified by using a few cubes of cucumber, tomato and green pepper.

Gazpacho is considered a warm-weather soup, but it is refreshing in winter, too.

GAZPACHO:

2 pounds ripe tomatoes (about 10 plum tomatoes)

½ pound cucumber (about 1 cucumber)

3 ounces green bell pepper (about ½ bell pepper)

1 garlic clove, peeled

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3/4 cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

GARNISH:

3 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil

1 slice rustic white bread

8 plum tomatoes, with the seeds prepared as fillets (see note)

12 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cucumber; peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes

4 pearl onions, quartered and pulled apart into segments

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

sea salt to taste

4 chives, cut into 1-inch-long pieces

Cut out and discard the core at the top of the tomatoes, and chop the tomatoes roughly into quarters. Place in a blender. Peel the cucumber and cut it into chunks. Add them to the blender.

Cut the bell peppers in half and remove and discard the core and the seeds. Chop the pepper into large pieces and place them in the blender. Add the garlic, sherry vinegar, and ½ cup water and blend until the mixture becomes a thick liquid.

The red tomatoes will have turned a wonderful pink color.

Taste for acidity (this will vary with the sweetness of the tomatoes). If it’s not balanced enough, add a little more vinegar. Add the olive oil and salt. Re-blend. Then pour the gazpacho through a strainer into a pitcher. Refrigerate until cool, at least 30 minutes.

While the gazpacho is chilling, prepare the croutons: Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small pan over a medium-high flame and fry the bread until golden on both sides, about 2 minutes.

Break the bread into small pieces to form 16 croutons and set aside.

To serve, place 4 croutons, 2 “fillets” (see note) of tomato seeds, 6 cherry tomato halves, 3 cucumber cubes, and 3 onion segments in each bowl. Add a few drops of the remaining olive oil to each onion segment, and drizzle a little more oil around the bowl. Add a few drops of vinegar to each cucumber cube, and drizzle little more around the bowl. Sprinkle sea salt on the tomatoes, and sprinkle the chives over all. Pour the chilled gazpacho over the garnish, at the table. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Using a sharp knife, slice off the top and bottom of each tomato. Locate the fleshy dividing wall of one segment inside the tomato. Slice alongside the dividing wall and open up the flesh of the tomato to expose the seeds. Remove the seeds and their pulp by slicing around the core of the tomato. Set the seeds aside. Your aim is to keep the pulp of the seeds together to create tomato-seed “fillets” that are separate from the firmer tomato flesh. Repeat with each segment of the tomato.

Traditional garlic shrimp(Gambas al ajillo)

This is the ultimate tapa, according to Mr. Andres. It’s simple, fast and rewarding to the taste buds. He says to be sure to include some good bread to soak up the delicious sauce.

Mr. Andres says this tapa depends on great shrimp. Previously frozen shrimp may be used, but if fresh shrimp from North Carolina or the Gulf of Mexico, or the small red Maine shrimp are available, the dish will be unforgettable.

1/4 cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil

6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

20 large shrimp (about 1 pound), peeled and deveined

1 quindilla chili (or favorite dried chili)

1 tablespoon brandy

1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan over a medium-high flame. Add the garlic and saute until browned, about 2 minutes.

Add the shrimp and chili. Cook for 2 minutes. Turn the shrimp over and saute for another 2 minutes. Pour in the brandy and cook for another minute. Sprinkle with the parsley, add salt to taste, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Spinach, Catalan-style (Espinacas a la Catalan)

This is a very quick dish to cook — so quick that you have to be careful not to burn anything. Be prepared beforehand, and be ready to serve immediately.

To make the spinach extra-special, prepare a quick pine nut praline to serve with it: Toast additional pine nuts in a separate pan, then puree them with a little olive oil to make a very fine paste, like a smooth peanut butter. Drizzle the praline over the plate and then top it with the spinach mixture.

2 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil

1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup seedless dark raisins

½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

10 ounces baby spinach, washed

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a high flame. When the oil is very hot, add the apple cubes and cook until they are a little browned, less than 1 minute. Add the pine nuts and cook until they are brown, about 20 seconds. Keep the pot moving so the nuts don’t burn. Add the raisins and the ½ teaspoon salt, and stir together.

Add the spinach, mix, and saute very fast until it starts to wilt. Then remove the pot from the heat; the spinach will continue to wilt off the heat. Add salt to taste and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

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