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José Andrés on Tasting Menus, Critics, and the Democracy of Restaurants

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To conclude Eater's coverage on the Cayman Cookout at the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman, here's chef José Andrés discussing the new Minibar in Washington, DC, how traditional cuisines begin to feel modern in new contexts, and the whole tasting menu "nonsense."

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José Andrés [Photo: Raphael Brion/Eater]

Tell us about your new restaurant in Puerto Rico, Mi Casa.
We opened in December, 12-12-12. Very successful. A new experience for me, opening in a resort, because the resort has different needs. It's one thing to have a restaurant in the middle of a city, it's another thing to have a restaurant in a resort. You have people who are going to stay with you for the week and their needs are different.

Did you do the entire food and beverage program?
A big part of it. I did Mi Casa, which is the specialty restaurant, my restaurant. Then I'm doing breakfast, I'm doing room service. It's kind of a secret but maybe it's not any more: I'm doing a food cart in the golf course, which I hope is going to elevate the food the golfers of the world can get at a golf course. You play five hours you should get a decent martini. You should get a decent bloody mary. Especially when you are shooting forty over.

Is it another Pepe (Andrés' DC food truck)?
It's learning from Pepe. Remember I have another food truck on the beach, in Miami now. This one is designed with Philippe Starck. What a dream, you have a food truck designed with Philippe Starck.

How's new Minibar going?
Minibar is doing great. I'm very, very happy. Minibar has more than ten years, Minibar really started 15, 16 years ago with the things I was doing at Cafe Atlantico. They salt their margarita today, you know, 15, 16 years ago I was making that. Back then as a conceptual drink, it was very amazing. Todd Thrasher of PX is one of the great cocktail masters in the city, he used to work with me. It's been more than ten years now since I did that kind of bar. Nothing new, but if you think about it, it's very new. To be eating in a bar in that way, it didn't exist. It exists in Japanese restaurants. It exists in tapas restaurants. The Japanese were very traditional, but if you've never experienced sushi it's very modern. And tapas are very traditional, but if you never ate tapas in a bar before it's very modern. Everything is very modern and traditional depending on when you experience it on your own.

So, Minibar. Very happy that I got a bigger place. I don't think this will be the last place of Minibar, or Washington should be the last city of Minibar. I think it's only the beginning. Very, very happy.

And you've already been reviewed by the Washington Post, right?
We got two stars from the Washington Post, which was a bit sad for me. More than for me, it's very sad for my team, because if anything we believe we are better today than we were when we had three. But when it's the opinion of a person, there is not much to say. I will try harder to convince that person. Minibar I think is astonishing. We are in a very good place, it's a very fun restaurant. It's a very unique restaurant.

The controversies about price, I don't get it. I subsidize Minibar, how much I charge, I subsidize everything. What I charge doesn't pay for what it cost. No one should be thanking me for that, I don't care, but when people come to me and say you're too expensive, I don't get it. The guys some times have to wake up at 7 am to be ready for 6 pm service, that's sometimes the way it is. They put passion in it, and that's expensive.

Listen. Restaurants are a democracy, they're open for anyone who wants to come. If restaurants were something public and the only way you had to eat, I understand people would complain. But you have a choice, so my thinking is, who is wasting time with that thinking. To me, the fast food burger, compared to the work and how they do it, is way too expensive. It's all a balance.

So that's one controversy I think is nonsense. Obviously I have three restaurants, é, Saam, and Minibar — and I say this with pride — they are always full, they are always packed and I have problems fulfilling every request for reservations. We have to be doing something right. People are not stupid.

This is related to Corby Kummer's take down of tasting menus?
It's exactly the same. I'm very, very upset how the press feeds each other like a band of brothers, now let's kill the witches. In Vanity Fair, my good friend Corby Kummer. Now the problem is elBulli closed, let's go and kill the tasting menus. Are these people nuts? What's the problem? We are zero point zero zero zero one percent of the restaurants, number one. Number two, you only come if you want to pick up the phone and call us and come. We don't put a gun in your brain and say come. And number three, if you want to come to the place and only have one dish, that's not what I'm doing. Go to my other restaurants. And if you want that, buy the restaurant, pay the $5 million, and I will make one dish a day for you. Don't complain if you go to see Lincoln, don't say, "Shit, I don't want Lincoln to be killed." No, sorry. That's the movie. You like the movie, you don't, it wins an Oscar, it doesn't. But you are free to feel whatever you want.

I may disagree, but this controversy on tasting menus...what's the problem? This to me looks like critics being Galileo Galilei's judges, saying this is wrong. Why?

Do you think the critics have an effect on controversies like these?
It's kind of funny that they're not concentrating on more important issues. They come to my restaurant and they want to crush me, that's fine. It's up to them and their brains and their thoughts. But I am the professional. I eat my food. I create my food. We are all very proud. We see the critics, we listen and appreciate them, but I see the people eating and I listen to them and appreciate them. I think it's simple now to crush anything. But that's my two cents.

I think these menus are here forever, I think they're going to be more available if anything. I'm talking about freedom. I'm talking about Jaleo, every time I have a table of four, they eat 16 to 20 dishes. Even in the place they're supposed to have fewer dishes, people order more because they want to experience more. So if anyone says that tasting menus are dead, they are crazy and they are not reading what's happening. Because if anything, when people go to a restaurant they always want to eat more than less. It's always the case. And even when it's not a tapas restaurant, chances are they want to share and taste as many bites as they can because they don't know when they're going to come back. These multi-tasting menus are going to die? They are not understanding, they are not reading, they are not watching, and they don't know their profession.

That's the reality. I go to a Chinese restaurant, they don't have a tasting menu, I don't know when I'm going back, I'm going to order 50 dishes. Especially if you are in the profession. I don't know why this is a controversy, I would like some reasoning that is logical. But it's not, so anything they say is nonsense. It's like, oh, the New York Times is too big? Then don't buy it. Can you make it smaller? Can you make the news shorter? No. Read whatever you want man.

So how do you respond to critics when things like this come up?
If Tom Sietsema didn't like my restaurant, shit, I will work harder to make sure he likes it. We were perfect day three after we opened? Maybe not. But to come and, boom, I am giving you two stars three days after you open? A little harsh. We are a restaurant, we have debt, we pay bills. They can close you down. The good thing is that critics don't close you down like they used to. But that's a lot of power to have, and when you have so much power you have to use the power wisely.

Why do you think critics don't have as much power as they used to?
You [Eater] are part of the problem. Now news comes from many more sources than before. I think to a degree that's a good thing. Sometimes chefs, when they talk good about us, that's great, but usually you don't get as much news as when you talk bad. You want to get, notice, you say something bad. That's the reality, I'm sorry, I know someone will get upset, but that's the reality. You are one person and you have the writing and that's a lot of power. But again, Minibar, my wife wants to go next month and I don't have the space for her. I don't say this in a pretentious way but I'm not worried. I have people come from all over the States to eat at Minibar, the same way they would eat at Alinea or all over. So I am very happy with Minibar, especially I am happy for the team. People forget the restaurant is not the chef. It's a big team that believes in a big idea. And that's what people forget, you know?

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· All Jose Andres Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Cayman Cookout Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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