Chef José Andrés is from Barcelona and worked for prestigious chefs, most famously Ferran Adrià, before launching a culinary empire in the U.S. His ThinkFoodGroup operates lauded restaurants like minibar, SAAM, é, Jaleo and Oyamel. He’s also partnered with SBE in Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas. His mission to feed people also extends to Haiti, a country that he developed a deep connection with after a devastating 2010 earthquake. World Central Kitchen, which is focused on “Smart Solutions to Hunger and Poverty,” recently funded a cafe. On November 18, Andrés shared insights into his progression as a chef during the Los Angeles debut of Zaranbanda, a craft beer collaboration with Deschutes Brewery.
Josh Lurie: Do you remember the first dish that you ever remember cooking?
José Andrés: With childhood memories, your brain is able to go back, or not. One I have right now, probably no more than 7, 8, my father took me to the town he grew up, two hours from Barcelona, in the region of Aragón, in a tiny town called Ribas. We had a second uncle, a direct connection to my dad, and to us. It was his old house and it was very cold, because we were going there during Lent, and it was already getting dark. He had a beautiful table in a house that smelled of history, in a very strange way. He was cutting pieces of bread and had a big open fire in a chimney. He had this big cauldron, metal. He had some pork fat. He sprinkled the bread with water with his fingers, and let the bread rest. Then he began to sauté the bread for 40 or 50 minutes. He would add some pork fat and essence of garlic by putting the clove around. I don’t know if he made a fried egg afterward, but we didn’t care about the egg. This simple dish of sautéed bread, almost taking an hour until it goes, getting crispy but soft at the same time, it’s called migas. A well-done migas is one of the most difficult dishes, and it’s one of my earliest childhood memories. So, so simple, but so, so good.
JL: Did you help your uncle make the migas?
JA: Yeah, bringing pieces of wood to the fire was natural in my life. The cauldron was big. My entire arm would not make it to the bottom. I remember the bread, and adding water to the bread.
JL: What do you remember about the first night that you cooked professionally in a restaurant kitchen? Where was that, and what do you remember?
JA: It happened gradually. The first day roughly being 14, going into 15. This was a restaurant that would take care of the lunches in the big convention center of Barcelona. It was great because it was a very old chef who took me as his son, Josep Puig, who I haven’t seen in ages. The menu was very simple, four or five appetizers, four or five main courses, and two or three desserts. It was a great way to learn those 10 dishes. There were not many people working in the kitchen. It was him, a couple dishwashers, a couple of other assistants, that’s it. It was very cool. I remember getting a lot of responsibility early on. It was not fancy. It was feeding the masses, and we were feeding the masses very well, and it was a great way to make great money. He was one of the great chefs in Barcelona, early on, but this was like retirement work for him.
JL: What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work in one of your kitchens?
JA: What we look for is commitment, concentration and taking the job seriously. They’re better than worse, or they have more technique than less, all that helps, but at the end you need somebody that shows up with the willingness to work. That’s what our kitchen needs, is commitment, not to the chef, but commitment to your co-workers. It’s not much we ask from them, but commitment to make each other better. We give very good kitchen environments. From there, it’s up to everybody. Holly [Jivin] came here as a cook, sous chef, now she’s the chef.
JL: Who else in the restaurant industry do you look to for guidance, inspiration or advice?
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