2012 American Chef of the Year: José Andrés

Looking across the American culinary landscape, one chef in the US stands higher above the rest this year

José Andrés talks about tasting menus, time travel, chefs' social responsibility, and working outside your comfort zone.

In his recent review of the new minibar, Tom Sietsema criticized it for not being innovative enough, and for serving "food that places the intellectual above the delicious  the head before the heart." Did you think there were any truths to the review? Do you think the review was fair? Is there anything you would take issue with?
I have always respected Tom. And we spoke soon after his review. He knows that I felt it was unfair for him to come once and make his rating only a few days into our new opening. We treat every guest and every experience, whether its day two or day 2,000 just the same, giving it our best. There are always things to learn and improve upon, and there are also places where we will have to just disagree, and that’s OK. I believe restaurants like minibar are a conversation, how things are shared between our chefs, our guests, and the person sitting next to you.

I want to believe the rating he gave minibar was not a comparison against any other restaurant. I want to believe he’s rating it against minibar and I want to believe that he is pushing me and my team to be better. Personally, I think minibar is one of the most unique menus you can have anywhere, and there are many people coming after the review saying so.

We expect you’ll be involved with many new projects and exciting things for years to come, but if you were to reflect now on what you wish your legacy will be as a chef, what would you say that is?
We are creating a course at George Washington University called "The World on a Plate" that will focus on how food touches every aspect of society. I’m really excited about this class because I think this is the start of building a food institute right here in Washington, D.C. where chefs and food experts can gather with scientists, economists, doctors, lawyers, politicians, NGOs, military leaders, and teachers, all coming together to discuss ideas for addressing the food issues we face, improving the food system, helping small farmers, getting better foods into people’s hands, making sure children are fed to be ready to learn at school, or how we can come up with cleaner technologies for cooking in developing countries. The possibilities are endless, but I think this will help put food on the global agenda. This is something I hope will really become a reality with or without me.

And what else would you like it to be?
Really, your legacy shouldn’t be described by you, but by others. Hey, I’m only 43! When I’m 60, we’ll talk.

What's your assessment of the state of food and dining in America? Is food exciting in the States right now or are the most interesting things happening elsewhere?
I think food in America is truly unique. We are such a vast country with such a variety of regional ingredients, traditions, and stories. Many friends in Europe make assumptions about what they think American food is. I always tell them they have no idea how rich and also refined it really is. The America Eats Tavern we opened last year in celebration of our collaboration with the National Archives was astonishing for me. Our research peeled back layer after layer of amazing stories and peoples that have shaped the cooking of this country. I wanted to celebrate that. We shouldn’t lose those stories or connections. And I am inspired by what so many chefs are doing now on each coast and throughout the country. From Dan Barber in New York and Katie Buttons in Asheville, N.C., to my guys Chris Cosentino in San Francisco and Michael Voltaggio in LA. So many talented, passionate chefs, pushing, learning, and creating amazing things.

Why do you think Spanish chefs love gin and tonics so much?
Why wouldn’t you?

Read: The Daily Meal's Chefs of the Year 2012

Read: 2012 International Chef of the Year: Massimo Bottura

Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.

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