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José Andrés on Oyamel, America Eats, and Design

Continuing Eater Lounge coverage from the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Right now: chef José Andrés:


How's Aspen so far? Great. We came Monday, the party Thursday was great.

So what's going on with the Oyamel expansion that just opened in DC? It looks amazing. Brand new expansion, more butterflies. I'm wondering that because you come to a Mexican restaurant to be having great tacos and margaritas, that after three margaritas the only thing you see is butterflies. So I say, let's get more butterflies. Let's help people to believe that they are okay even if they're done with margaritas. We're very happy, we added almost 83 percent more seats, more bar, for a Mexican restaurant that's great. I love Oyamel, it's a great story because I opened it close to 10 years ago. The issue was location, location, location. We didn't open in the right place. And for me, to close a restaurant and reopen somewhere else and to call it a success, in the restaurant business we don't have many of those success stories. When you close a restaurant, you close for good. Oyamel got a new life and we are doing better than ever.

I'm curious about your design aesthetic, the newest restaurants you've been opening have amazing couches and murals and things. How do you plan this exactly? I surround myself with a good team of designers. Maybe it sounds pretentious, but I try to be very involved. For a very simple reason: The designer does the place and [claps hands] goes away. You are stuck with the design for the rest of your life. So I learned that the designs are gonna have something that feels good to me, that it's a place I want to be. I have a lot of friends that are great designers. From painters to architects, I try to get a lot of feedback but I also try to learn. I go to as many museums as I can, as many conferences around art, from Switzerland to Basel to Miami, to you name it. I get inspired and I take photos of everything I like, and over the years you come up with the things you like. And when you open a place, you say, "I don't know what I want, but this is what I like. Now do it."

As you were saying with Oyamel, now you're reopening America Eats. Was that always the plan to reopen? I was trying to look for a location, we got the opportunity to do it downtown. I got the opportunity to do it in a place which is 10 minutes away from my home, Tyson's is an area that I know well... It helps that it's so close to the Virginia I love. Tyson's Corner used to be called Peach Grove, it used to be farmland where there used to be a lot of peaches, not too long ago. And to be in such close proximity to the wineries I love, many of the farmers we buy from, I thought, let me find a home for these ideas of American dishes, the seasonable, the local... and why not at the Ritz? So I know two other chefs, two great chefs, before kind of had different luck in the process. But I know what I am capable of, my company... we go to places, we study a lot, we try to fill the niche, and I think America Eats has a perfect home there. The door to the farm area of Virginia, and so close to my house, and again all the relationships I've been building over the years.

So you're not superstitious about cursed restaurant spaces? No, actually, isn't there a saying that say, "third... time... charm"?

Third time's a charm? Yeah, I think we're gonna do it well, I think we're doing a great design, I think it's gonna be fun. I think it's not just going to be a place for special occasions, but a place where anybody can come every day. It'll be a good showing of great American produce. I've always believed that America Eats could and should be a restaurant that showcases the best of America. So this to me, it's almost to say, let me create that so we can see American Eats maybe in other cities around the world one day. We should start exporting more than fast food chains. We should be exporting not great Japanese chains that were created in America. We should be exporting great American restaurants overseas.

Where would you want to go? Anywhere we are needed. Anything American, there are always big fans. The love that the world has for anything American — NBA, baseball, movies — why can't there be the same love for great American food? For me, it's very logical. I don't know if it will be me, but if it's not me, it will be somebody else.

Oh also! [Looks to his PR guy.] My PR people told me that I was not supposed to tell you about this. [PR guys says, "Stop stop stop, let's go!"] Another country, south of the United States. They told me, "Don't tell them about that." Oh shit, I told them? [And his PR guy pulls him away.]

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