Credited with pioneering the tapas concept in America, Andrés now heads a restaurant empire and a food-focused nonprofit. (©Our Local Commons)
José Andrés is known for his infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy. And those attributes have served him well, as his plate is more than full. The Spanish-born chef runs acclaimed restaurants in cities from Miami to Las Vegas and with his nonprofit World Central Kitchen searches for solutions to hunger in impoverished communities. In between, he’s found time to teach university courses, host the PBS show “Made in Spain” and become a proud U.S. citizen.
Lucky for Washington locals and visitors, Andrés put down roots here, where diners savor meals in several of his popular spots, from the fast-casual Beefsteak to the avant-garde minibar. We recently caught up with the James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Chef.”
You were born in Spain, where you trained at the legendary El Bulli, and you have restaurants in several cities. Why make D.C. your base?
When I first moved to the United States, I started in New York but was soon offered a position at a new Spanish restaurant in D.C., in Penn Quarter. That of course was Jaleo, and Penn Quarter was not back then a dining destination. But the great restaurateur Richard Melman had given me an important piece of advice. He said, “Whatever you do, throw the anchor and belong. Learn to belong.” Jaleo was my anchor and helped me to learn to belong in D.C. I have loved this city ever since.
How has the city’s food scene changed since you opened Jaleo in 1993?
So much! D.C. has an amazing culinary legacy, with great French chefs like Jean-Louis Palladin and Michel Richard, but there wasn’t a lot of diversity in cuisine when we first opened 24 years ago. Now we see Mexican, Spanish, Greek, Filipino, Laotian, Ethiopian, Japanese—the world is right here in our city.
How did it feel to earn two Michelin stars last year for minibar?
I was once a 14-year-old boy looking into the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants in Barcelona. Now to earn two stars for minibar? I am so proud of my team. And it motivates us to keep pushing our creativity even more.
What are some must-sees or must-dos for a first-time D.C. visitor?
The National Museum of American History—it’s an amazing place full of America’s heritage. You can’t miss the exhibit on food, especially Julia Child’s kitchen! And it’s a short walk from the monuments and the museums to Penn Quarter, where many of my restaurants are. You can end a day of sightseeing with a salt-air margarita and some guacamole at Oyamel.
Can you recommend a hidden gem in the city?
I really love that this city is so green everywhere. Just a short distance from downtown are many parks and places to be outside. One of my favorite outdoor spots is the C&O Canal in Georgetown, just off busy M Street, where you can walk for miles and see trees, waterfalls and more. On a beautiful day, it’s a great place to go and feel like you are far away from the city.
Do you have a favorite local ingredient?
Seafood from the Chesapeake Bay. I’m from Asturias, a seafood-eating region in Northwestern Spain, so I absolutely love fresh seafood. From the bay, we get incredible oysters, crabs and more. I recently opened a restaurant in Maryland celebrating the local seafood, Fish by José Andrés.
Can you share an especially memorable dining experience you’ve had while traveling?
I recently visited Asturias for my annual winter pilgrimage to eat oricios, or sea urchins. They are in season in January and February, so every year I must go and enjoy them. They’re so briny and yet so sweet at the same time.
If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would that be?
I don’t want to sound boring, but honestly, I love waking up in my home. I am with my wife, Tichi, and my three daughters, and on a perfect day, we go to the farmers market, then cook a wonderful family meal. I have traveled all around the world, but I always love to be home.