José Andrés has been a certified celebrity chef for a while now. The chef-owner of 26 restaurants has helped popularize tapas in America, has invented what some (including Upsell co-host Helen Rosner) consider the world’s best margarita, and has used his considerable platform to advocate for immigration reform. In fact, last year President Obama awarded Andrés a National Humanities Medal for all his contributions. The chef seems to have a thing for being involved with presidents: In 2015, he pulled out of a restaurant project at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. and, after then-candidate Trump sued him for breach of contract, filed a countersuit against the now-President Trump. The two have been locked in litigation ever since.
“I can go one-on-one with him as long as he wants,” Andrés says in this week’s episode of the Eater Upsell. He talks with hosts Helen and Greg about moving America forward, being snubbed by the James Beard Awards, and putting a Beefsteak, his vegetable-focused fast-casual restaurant, in every college town. Listen below, or read on for the full transcript.
As always, you can get the Eater Upsell on iTunes, listen on Soundcloud, subscribe via RSS, or search your favorite podcast app. You can also get the entire archive of episodes — plus transcripts, behind-the-scenes photos, and more — right here on Eater.
Read the transcript of the Eater Upsell Season 3, Episode 7: José Andrés, slightly edited for clarity, right here.
Greg Morabito: Our guest in the Eater Upsell studios today is someone I consider to be a titan of the culinary world, chef José Andrés, who has, as I just learned, 26 restaurants — in how many continents? Two continents?
José Andrés: Only two continents, technically.
Helen Rosner: Only two.
José: Yeah, but I don't have businesses. I don't have restaurants. I have stories.
Greg: You have stories.
José: And writers, journalists, you express yourself through your writing or through your radio shows or podcasts. Chefs, the way we have to express ourselves is through restaurants, and I tell my stories through my restaurants.
Greg: That's a lot of stories you have to tell there.
Helen: At least 26 of them.
Helen: But it's variations on the same chapters in a novel? Let's extend this metaphor.
José: No, no. Sometimes [a restaurant] just tells the story of my childhood. So Jaleo, my Spanish tapas restaurant, we have four now, is my story. My mother's croquetas — like every mother in Spain at the end of the month when there was no more food left until my father would get the next paycheck — leftovers were king, and whatever chicken was left, she would make bechamel, and she would make these amazing croquetas. I don't remember any dish from the beginning of the month when the refrigerator was full, but I remember very much every single dish from the end of the month when we had almost nothing. That's an homage to my mother feeding the family with almost no money.
And that's my story at Jaleo. It's the food of the country I was born in, and it's been a great road. Twenty-five years later I keep telling that story. I opened almost 25 years ago, in 1993. 24 years. I'm not very good at math. But 24, 25 years ago I opened Jaleo with a very big tapas menu where everybody was supposed to be sharing, and everybody told me I was crazy and that in America people don't share. Actually, we proved a lot of people wrong in so many ways.
Greg: So you’re 25 years into your American story. There's a very interesting wrinkle in the story, which is that you are currently being sued by the President of the United States, and you sued him back. And as far as I understand, you're not a very litigious person. Is that correct?
Dan Geneen: Hi, Upsell listeners. This is AP Dan. We’re just going to take a quick pause, because I am going to explain the lawsuit that they are about to talk about. Basically, what happened is in June of 2015, Trump said of Mexican immigrants, “They’re bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.” In August of 2015, José Andrés pulled out of a plan to open a restaurant in a Trump hotel in D.C. Trump proceeded to sue the restaurant group for a sum of $10 million for breach of contract and legal fees. Andrés’s restaurant group defended its decision to pull out by releasing the statement: "The perception that Mr. Trump's statements were anti-Hispanic made it very difficult to recruit appropriate staff for a Hispanic restaurant, to attract the requisite number of Hispanic food patrons for a profitable enterprise, and to raise capital for what was now an extraordinarily risky Spanish restaurant." And they countersued Trump for $8 million.
José: Well, I think that's the first time in my life I've been sued by anybody.
Helen: I mean, I guess if you're going to get sued, get sued by the president. Like, start small, you know? Like, yeah. All right. Dive in.
José: We felt at the time that it was the right thing to do, quite frankly. My official line was it’s business, a business decision. [The lawsuit] was not going to be good for business. And you can use the word “business” in any way or form you want.
Greg: Business, yeah.
José: And so, it was a business decision, and I tried to come to terms, to an understanding, even though I spoke to the then-Republican-candidate Mr. Trump about his comments about Mexicans, about Latinos being rapists. And at the end of the day it was like, life is too short to not respect others and make sure that others respect you, specifically for those who have no voice. And I felt that all of those things made the business environment not the right one. That's why I told him, "Listen, change please. Help me help you." But I was not very successful.
Greg: When you were talking to him, did you get the sense he was listening? Did you feel respected back?
José: Yeah I think he's like that to a degree. He listened, and quite frankly I was expecting that there was going to be a little change, of course, but he didn't. So, today, I'm very glad I did what I did. He did what he had to do, which was suing me, and I did what I had to do. But in life, I believe that there’s only one way to win, which is everybody moving forward, and that's the way I try to run my life. I hope he follows his The Art of the Deal, the so-called best seller. When making a deal, sometimes you bring everybody along, and I hope he will do that.
Helen: You offered a really interesting third path to him over Twitter a couple of months ago. You tweeted that you — and I don't know if you expressed this formally to him also — but you suggested that the two of you drop your respective lawsuits and donate the millions of dollars that are in play here to a veterans’ charity.
Helen: Which to me seems like a very generous and reasonable third option.
José: Yeah, well it isn't millions. I’d say a few hundred thousand.
Helen: It's still a lot of money.
José: I'm very happy to do it either way. My partners and I didn't do it out of weakness, but on the contrary. I have a very good case, and I have an amazing group of friends and partners. Money's not an issue. So I made sure that he understood that this was not going to be like he's going to tear me down because I'm only a cook. There’s no issue with money here. I can go one-on-one with him as long as he wants. But in the end, what do you gain? What do you really gain? I want him to concentrate on running the country the best he can. And I’m trying to keep running my business the best I can and trying to keep moving America forward, and I thought [the Twitter suggestion] was a good idea. I think he knows about it. His people know about it. Let's hope that sooner or later we have a settlement, only because I don't like to be spending my life in court.
Greg: You got other stuff to do.
José: Yeah. Like hang with you here.
Helen: You know, your relationship with Trump couldn't be more different than your relationship was with President Obama. Last year he gave you the National Humanities Medal. Basically, there’s no higher honor. I can't think of a higher honor than that. So you go from one of the most beloved presidents of all time literally putting a medal around your neck to — not that.
José: Yeah. That's life. But, I'm trying to be a guy that, even though I have this big voice and this big body, like a whale jumping from the water in the middle of the ocean, at the end, I like to live my life like every human being: somewhere in the middle, enjoying life, enjoying the sunrises and the sunsets, enjoying the smell of coffee in the morning, and the smell of fresh-squeezed orange juice — those unique things that we don't give importance to but are what make our days unbelievable sometimes. We don't think about them. I don't want to be running my life in any other way. I don't want to be getting the super awards or being sued. I want to be in the middle. But it's very funny that I go from being on the right side of the forest to the other side of the forest. I don't know if it's the good or the bad one, the other side of the forest. It's kind of funny.
Greg: I know that before the election, you were very involved talking about immigration reform, and I'm just kind of curious, how has that conversation changed in the last few months for you? Has it changed?
José: Well, I hope you can hear me tearing down my — whatever you call this thing.
Helen: Ah, you pulled the Superman move!
Greg: It's beautiful. Yeah.
José: What do you call this thing in English?
Greg: It's a vest.
Helen: A vest.
José: A vest. Yeah, sorry. I forgot that name.
Helen: To those of you listening at home, that zipper noise you just heard was literally a zipper being undone. José Andrés tore open his vest in this Superman style.
José: I'm not naked. I'm not naked.
Greg: He's not Clark Kent anymore.
Helen: He's wearing a shirt that says—
José: “I am an immigrant.”
Helen: — “I am an immigrant.”
José: But, I say this with the utmost respect to everybody else. I think we need leaders that bring everybody together. Leaders that believe in inclusion, not in exclusion. And immigration is very much at the heart. It is true that we have a group of people in America, in different parts of America, different states, and in our own cities — we don't have to go to rural America — that feel they are not part of the American dream, that they are somehow left behind, that unemployment is high, and that drugs are popping up all around their communities. They seem to not have a future. And they can be minorities, they can be white working men that are trying to do the best they can to keep moving their families forward. We can call them “born Americans of many generations.” And quite frankly, we need to be fixing those problems and we need to be helping those people.
And then we have other people, immigrants, too, that feel sometimes that they have to work hard, that they are alone, that the system is using them. There are some people out there that are trying to make this group in the heart of America fight this other group that is just coming to dream of a better tomorrow. And it's so sad that they are trying to say that the problems of this group are because of these other people. Trying to bring these civilizations into a fight is the wrong thing to be doing, because actually you're not going to be fixing any other problem by making different groups fight.
At the end of the day, America needs those immigrants, because, go to any farm; who is working on those farms? Go to the golf courses; who is working on those golf courses? Go to many restaurants across America; who do you think is working there? We have 11 million undocumented immigrants that actually are doing work that nobody else seems to be willing to do. It's very unfair that we don't recognize those people that are part of the DNA of America, that wake up every morning very early and work very hard. They try to keep moving their families forward with the money they bring in, but in a way, they're moving America forward.
Just to try to demonize those 11 million undocumented — when the system is using them for the betterment of the system, but we don't recognize their contributions — that’s unfair. And to use those 11 million undocumented to tell the guys in Ohio, Pennsylvania, or, of course, in Washington, DC, that the reason they're not doing better is because of those 11 million undocumented immigrants, that's unfair. That's a lack of leadership of astronomical proportions. What we need to be doing is asking, what do we do to help those people that feel forgotten by the system? And, what do we do to bring those 11 million undocumented immigrants, that are part of the economy of America and of the spirit of America, out of the shadows and into the real world?
If we accomplish that, America will keep moving forward unbelievably well, without making one group believe that they should hate the other because everything that is wrong with their lives is because these other people are taking things away from them. That's not the way the world works. Actually, one plus one, I believe, can be three, and here's somebody telling us that one plus one is minus ten.
Greg: One of my favorite things you wrote is this great piece for Eater about your experience as an immigrant in America, and towards the end of it you mention this idea about being an active citizen, which I thought was very powerful to think about. This is a big question or a big idea, maybe you don't have the answer to it, but what can diners and what can restaurant owners do if they want to support immigrant rights and reform and those ideas right now?
José: Well there are so many things, but one thing is the restaurant food community in America is over 10 percent of the GDP. It's a very big number. And it probably employs 12, 13, 14 percent of all working Americans. So what I’m saying with this is that the food family is a very powerful one, and I do believe that immigration reform is not a problem for us to solve, but it's an opportunity for us to seize. I do believe America will be stronger bringing those 11 million back from the shadows. So what I would tell everybody is that we need to be actively telling our congress to stop doing nonsense and talking about things that don't improve anything, and let's push congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
We had President Bush and President Obama with majorities at the time on the Hill, and they were not able to pass immigration reform. So we had two beloved presidents, respected presidents, trying to pass immigration reform, and congress didn't let them. Why? We should be putting the pressure on congress right now, but it's so unfair that after so many years, we still don't have immigration reform. Again, that's why I would ask the restaurant community to support immigration reform.
Helen: It feels like a strong move in so many ways. It makes sense from a business perspective. As you were saying, the number of immigrants both documented and undocumented who work in the restaurant and food sector is tremendous. And especially when we were talking about undocumented immigrants, if we consider agriculture work part of the food sector, that’s where way more than half of all undocumented labor in the U.S. happens.
José: Seventy percent, probably, of undocumented immigrants work in many of the farms across America. And that's the reality. If we have a salad and a carrot that we give our children, it's probably because an undocumented [worker] was growing it.
Greg: Yeah, this beautiful food that we grow here.
José: And this is the other thing: I told you immigration reform, but let's be more precise. Why don’t we have a real revolving-door visa policy that allows the big farmers of America to be hiring anybody they need? They could come for three, four months of the season to pick okra, cotton, or corn, and then they go back to their countries, and they bring with them whatever wealth they make with us. They make America stronger, and the economy keeps growing. They go back to their communities, whatever countries they come from, and they make their communities stronger. They thrive. They know they can come back next year. At the end, you create this amazing economy, where in the process of moving America forward, you are moving many other communities across Latin America forward, and all of a sudden you need no walls, because the system just sustains itself.
And I believe in walls. I've been saying lately, we should be building big walls, but we should be building big walls for schools, to prepare our young people to move forward. We should be building walls to create community kitchens, so every child in America has a plate of food, and so they have proper education early on. And we should invest at the beginning, and not throw money at the end, putting those poor children in jail because they had nothing else to do to other than to get into trouble. I want big walls [so we can have] hospitals that provide the right care to every American. I want big walls to keep building America in the right way, not walls that separate people, walls that separate economies, or walls that only make everybody afraid of each other. I'm not afraid of anybody. No American should be afraid of anybody.
Just to say that now immigrants coming are the bad people — listen to me, there are, unfortunately, bad people anywhere around the world, Americans or not. But the vast majority of the people, 99.9 percent of the people, they are all good, hard working people, Americans or immigrants that came from another country. That’s the type of wall we should be investing in: walls that represent inclusion, not walls that represent exclusion.
Helen: You've got my vote.
Greg: Yeah, you’ve got my vote too.
Helen: You've spoken so much, particularly in the last few months, about immigration. You've become an extraordinary advocate for immigrants and for immigration reform, and you also do work in D.C. with hunger and local communities. Have you ever thought about running for office?
José: If I had more preparation and if I had a university degree. Well actually I got one at George Washington, an honorary degree, when I gave the commencement speech three years ago.
Helen: I mean, that's more than — Who was that? There was that representative recently who it turned out that his college degree was actually a business management course that Sizzler had set up for him?
Greg: It was a state senator from Iowa. Yeah.
Helen: So, you know, a university degree is not a requirement for governance in the U.S.
José: I know that, but I feel like there are so many ways you can be helping your community and your country, and I know that I can be helping America, like so many other Americans, by only trying to be a voice. Quite frankly, I don't want to be a voice. I only want to be cooking, telling stories with food, and doing TV and radio here and there, and enjoying life. But at the same time, it's pretty hard, and especially a guy like me whose English is kind of a mix, I don’t know, of kindergarten — but, the way I have to express myself, I have to try harder than anybody else, and I felt like I had to be a voice, because there are so many voiceless people out there. I didn't want to be part of this, but at the same time, I can’t be looking to the other side, you know?
We can’t be in the food business and have there be hungry people. You're charging $300 for a tasting menu in your restaurant, but across the street somebody doesn’t know what they're going to eat that day. So the idea quite frankly is a very simple scenario that you have to work hard to make yourself successful and your family and provide for the people you know and you love. But I do believe the new American dream should be to work as hard for yourself and the people you love, but you have to equally do the same for others you don't know. I do believe that should be the new American dream in the 21st century: Provide for others what you dream to provide for yourself.
Greg: I'll think about that every morning after I read the morning news, those encouraging and inspiring words. So, one reason I was very excited to talk with you, chef, is you have a restaurant in Las Vegas that I have not been to: China Poblano.
Helen: I have been there!
Greg: You've been there right, Helen?
Helen: Many times. I love China Poblano.
Greg: Maybe it's from conversations I've had, with Helen among them, but that is the one restaurant that I have heard more food writers and chefs talk about as the reason to go to Vegas than any other one.
Helen: I go every time I'm in Vegas. Without a doubt.
Greg: I'm just kind of curious about the legacy of that restaurant. It seems to have evolved, you know?
Helen: First of all, did you know that China Poblano is the favorite Vegas restaurant of so many food writers?
José: I know it's very beloved, obviously. [In Las Vegas], I also have Jaleo and é by José Andrés, my eight-seat restaurant, and they are doing amazing. But, China Poblano is one, and the reason I did it was — it's a very unique reason. Actually, I was super disappointed that when they do the James Beard Awards every year, and they have the new restaurants of the year, that we didn't make the cut.
Greg: Huge oversight.
José: Hold on, I mean the cut of the 20 that they put at the beginning.
Helen: The long list.
Greg: The long list, right.
José: But, not for me — for my team, because I believe we did such good work. Winning or not winning, there's so many amazing chefs, restaurants, and restaurant groups that put out amazing restaurants every year, so winning or not is just, you know, is that. But just to be nominated in the big list — I was so, so, so disappointed. But anyway, I forgive all these James Beard award judges. I forgive you. I still love you, on behalf of James Beard. Honor his name.
But, long story short, I do believe it's a great restaurant. The idea was recreating a moment in history where Chinese people came in the 19th, 20th century from California after building the railroad, and they came to Mexico, and they also did work. And they were about to be thrown away, and then they moved deep inland and then went to this town called Mexicali, where today there are two or three thousand Chinese-descent Mexicans. And I was like, let me make this moment in history. And obviously the story of Puebla — that this Chinese lady, princess, a slave, whatever, moved to Puebla, and she married one of the richest men in Puebla and that's why the China Poblano is the traditional dress in Puebla.
It's these connections between China and Mexico, and then it was one more connection. One of my best friends, ambassador Jorge Guajardo — a Mexican from Monterrey, [Mexico] who went to Georgetown, who I met 25 years ago and is actually the guy that picked me up in the airport when I landed in D.C. the first time — he ended up being the Mexican ambassador in China.
Helen: Oh my god. That's crazy.
José: How many times in your life does your best friend end up becoming the Mexican ambassador in China at the same time that I'm thinking about doing a Chinese-Mexican restaurant? It's like I couldn't organize it better if I was writing the script of a movie.
Helen: I mean that's happened to me, like, two or three times.
José: So I was in China doing research, cooking in the kitchen of the Mexican ambassador to China with Mexican and Chinese cooks, women cooks — they were amazing — and I was doing research around China and around Mexico on these restaurants. We didn't try to mix them. One half is Chinese, one half is Mexican, and then I have one or two or three dishes that are just a little piece in between, like the tacos of duck tongue, but only a few dishes. What is Chinese, I tried to do a true homage to China, and what is Mexican, I tried to do a really good homage to Mexico, and they live peacefully in the same restaurant, which I love.
Helen: One of the things I love about the restaurant is when you walk in, the door is in the center, and to your left is counter seating where the Chinese kitchen is, and to your right is counter seating where the Mexican kitchen is, and then there are open tables, and I have found that almost without fail, I sit at the counter in front of the Chinese kitchen.
And this is the thing. I've had this conversation with many friends — most of whom are food writers, because all food writers are obsessed with China Poblano — and we have, like, religious conviction about which counter is the correct counter to sit at. And some people very hardcore want to watch the dumplings getting made, and some people very hardcore want to watch the tacos. Which side do you sit on?
José: It's funny. I was there recently, and this time I sat on the Chinese side. But then I need to be super diplomatic, because when I leave, the teams will talk and say, "Oh, chef didn't sit near us this time." So I try to keep equally sitting in the dining room, in the Chinese bar, and in the Mexican bar so everybody is happy. I always start with my favorite drink in the whole world, which is this margarita with the salt air foam. It's not foam, it's an air.
Helen: That's my favorite drink in the world, too. We have so much in common.
José: Which is very funny. It's very expensive because it's more work, and you will say the people will go for the traditional margarita, but right now it's the number-one-selling item, and now this is popping up everywhere. But I hate salt on the rim.
Greg: I don't like salt on the rim either.
José: I hate bad quality salt, so I began drinking margaritas without salt, but it's kind of like having pasta pomodoro without tomatoes. Like, give me a break. Then, one day, I had four gin and tonics on my vacation in the south of Spain, and I was in the water, one of the very rare moments I'm in the water, and the water was hitting the rocks, and there was all this beautiful foam with the beautiful sea aroma, and I grabbed the foam, and I began eating it. And my wife was like, "José people are watching you. What are you doing?" And I was screaming, and I'm like, "We got it! We got it!"
And then I called the restaurant from Spain, and as soon as I came back we began making this air of salt that is only water, salt, and a little bit of lime. And we began topping the margarita with that, and it has become a beloved margarita in Washington, and in Vegas, and in many of my other restaurants.
Helen: It is my favorite margarita. I feel like I'm overly fangirling out right now, but I had it for the first time at China Poblano in Vegas, the salt air margarita, and I had it because someone told me, "You have to go to this restaurant. You have to get the salt air margarita. Everything else, you can make your own choices, but these are the two things that are non-negotiable," and it changed my life. It's my favorite. It literally is my favorite cocktail.
José: I know [you, Greg] were at Eater NY, and don't take this in the wrong way, but if that margarita was created in Manhattan, it would be on the cover of every single magazine.
Greg: Oh, I do not take that the wrong way. I agree with that.
José: But because this was created in Washington, it's like, oh, the world doesn't exist if it doesn't happen in New York. And that's the reality, but that's another conversation. That's another conversation for another moment.
Greg: That's another thing that us food writers love talking about.
José: This is part of also what's happening in this election. The centers of power are the centers of power, and everybody else is left behind. It happens in politics, happens with the economy, it also happens with food. You journalists, you have such a responsibility to try — and it's not easy, like politics.
There are so many good projects happening across America beyond the big cities, beyond the centers of power, that we need to do more to make sure that we showcase those little towns, those little villages, those people that risk everything and open in the middle of nowhere. We need to do more to make sure that those people are also known to the big public, because we need to be helping rural America to also rise from being forgotten. And again, there are so many chefs and people trying to do little businesses: a bakery here, a bakery there, a bread shop there, a bread shop there. We need to do more to make sure that those people don't feel left behind. And we need to really try to do the best we can to showcase them.
Helen: That speaks to one of the inherent tensions of food as a vehicle for community and change, which is that, it's inherently, incredibly intimate, which is great, right? You bake a loaf of bread, and only so many people can make a loaf of bread at once. The oven can only hold so many loaves, only so many people can eat each individual loaf, so there's an immediate personal intimacy. But, it also means that you can't mass produce food culture. You can, I guess, if you're a giant chain restaurant with billions of dollars behind you, but what you're talking about — if the salt air margarita is only in D.C. and in Las Vegas, how do we make someone who is not in Las Vegas and D.C. care about it? How do we say to someone, "This is important. This is the greatest margarita in the world" — which I believe — “And you may never have it unless you get on an airplane, but you should know about it anyway"? How do you tell that story? And I don't think there's an easy answer, but I think that whether we're talking about a margarita or we're talking about building community by creating local bakeries, it ultimately comes down to this question of, do you have to personally experience food in a way that you don't have to personally experience other things?
José: I agree, but, you know, journalists, writers, radio makes people dream, and dreaming is also a way of eating.
Greg: When you and your group find a space in a city that you're in, and that you like, and you want to do something there, and you decide, Okay this is going to be one of our restaurants, what's the creative process? How do you put it together? Do you check out what's already out there? Do you have this list of projects you want to do?
José: Yeah, it's all of the above. I was talking with my wife the other day because there was this restaurant for sale somewhere, I'm not going to tell you where, in the middle of nowhere. And I told my wife, "Wouldn't it be cool if we bought this restaurant with the beautiful house and all the acres, and we moved there without telling anybody? No press release, no nothing, and we begin cooking. We see who shows up. Let's see what happens."
Helen: I love this idea.
José: So eventually I will do this, on a boat probably going from port to port or something. Just show up in the middle of nowhere.
Greg: That is so cool.
José: And I will do that. I know I will. And then between that dream and what I'm doing now, that is more a company that you run and you are more strategic, I still try to address every restaurant. Like this is the story I'm telling you of the restaurant in the middle of nowhere, but the reason I want to open more restaurants is very simple. It’s not greed, it's not more money, it's not fame, it's not being rich. The reality is this. It's who do you want to feed America and the world? A clown — and I have the utmost respect for the fast-food industry, and I think they do a great job for what they are — or a chef?
To me, the answer is very simple. I think you want a chef. I believe there are so many opportunities out there, and that chefs, chef-run companies, food-run companies, like me, can do a better job than anyone else. So I try to very clearly separate my Minibars and the places where I spend most of my time from the other restaurants. But again, do I want to have 10, 20, Jaleos? Yes. Why? Because I want to bring Spanish food to more people, because it's something that I always wanted to do. But at the end, those 20 restaurants I know will be better than another 20 restaurants that can be from a so-so chain. So, I have that, and I think every chef has that role: Stop complaining about why food can sometimes be so bad in so many parts of the world, and start doing something to bring better quality food to the people of America. That's as simple as that.
The problem was that everybody says that America doesn't get enough vegetables and fruits. The USDA, the department of agriculture, recommends right now in MyPlate, that America should be eating 50 percent, at least, of their diet in vegetables and fruits. But the USDA only puts 1 percent of their budget to help America eat vegetables and fruits. It’s a very big disconnect. So I’ve stopped going to this congress where everybody claps like seals, me first, when we say something amazing like, "Let's bring more vegetables and fruits to America." Everybody claps, and then we go to our homes. Nothing happens.
José: Beefsteak to me was more like, "I'm going to stop clapping and I'm going to try to do something." Even if I fail miserably, at least I tried, and at least I will learn something, and I hope, I will give a glimpse of what it could be to other young people, so that one day they will have even a better idea of how we can make vegetables and fruits sexy again. So Beefsteak is my real try at bringing true vegetables, cooked in front of you, to the vast majority of Americans it can reach.
So far, we have six. The first one was at George Washington University, my alma mater now I guess. But, we are at the University of Pennsylvania. I would love to be like Facebook. They went from Cambridge all the way to Stanford.
Greg: Oh, interesting model.
José: So should Beefsteak be in Cambridge because I’ve been teaching culinary physics class to undergrads at Harvard University? Yes. Do I want to be in Stanford? Yes. Do I want to be in every university in America? Yes. Why? Because it's a very natural fit. I dream that in five years we'll have at least a hundred Beefsteaks, at least. I dream of that. I am getting myself ready to achieve that. I have the best team a chef can put together to do that.
Helen: More than a month ago, it was actually the week before the presidential inauguration, I had dinner at [your restaurant] Minibar, in D.C., and the final savory course — The meal builds to a crescendo, and if you go through the tasting menu experience at most places, usually the last savory course before you move into the pre-dessert section of the evening is a hunk of meat. It'll be like, usually beef or venison or something. And, at Minibar, the final savory course was a cabbage leaf. It was brilliant. It was amazing. It was a cabbage leaf that had been painted in suet, in cow fat, and it was the steakiest cabbage leaf I've ever had. It was great, it was, "All right, here's a vegetable."
José: You know, we are obsessed with meat. I am obsessed with meat. I am a big chunk of meat on two legs. But, think about it for a second. And I have a meat restaurant, Bazaar Meat in Las Vegas, which I don't want to brag about, but it is super cool and is doing amazing, and it's like this homage to fire and meat.
Greg: I'm going to book a trip to Vegas just to eat at your restaurants.
José: Yeah. This one, you're going to love it. But, I think when you put a piece of meat in your mouth, let's say it's the best meat in the world, which is not easy, but imagine the first five seconds. You put the piece in your mouth, the smokiness of the charcoal, the juices that begin floating all around your tongue, your mouth. Your body's kind of like, "Oh my god, what's going on? This is so good," but it only lasts five seconds. In the moment those juices disappear, you have this big, round piece of fibers and other things that you're going to have to be biting to try to break into small pieces for the next 30 seconds of your life. And you are there, munching a piece of ugly color, ugly everything because you have to put it inside your stomach. And I'm wondering, why am I spending 30 seconds of my life trying to break a tasteless piece of S-H-I-T to try to put it into my stomach? It's a waste of my life. Thirty seconds is a lot of seconds for a bite. Imagine when you have to have 20 bites to multiply 20 bites by 30 seconds of tasteless moments. I am not living my life to have so many minutes, hours probably, days at the end of a lifetime, munching something so tasteless.
So I'm looking for the moment of the juice — the five seconds. I'm trying to make sure that people don't spend so many hours of their lives — days of their lives — munching something so tasteless. That's the way I try to approach meat, and that's what you will get from a dish like this. We are bringing you meat aromas and meat flavors, but sometimes I don't want to waste your precious life, because you are putting your life in my hands.
My best moment is when I get steak sometimes, and I juice the steak with my hands. I take out the blood, and I put it in a glass, and then I drink it. Yes, Dracula was a smart man, to a degree, yes. Was he drinking from the wrong source? Yeah. I mean, yeah, humans shouldn't be drinking other humans, obviously, but, in this case, the blood in the glass, warm, with a little bit of salt. Those four seconds that you're drinking the juice of the meat, that's the way we should be eating meat. If we do that with a carrot, and the carrot juice is amazing, why can’t we do this with a piece of meat? Amazingness is what we need to be always looking for.
Helen: You just completely changed my perspective. I think neither Greg nor I will ever eat a bite of steak in the same way again.
Greg: I mean, a lot the things you were just describing about a steak are my favorite parts of the steak, and the things that you were describing as not the best parts are definitely not the best.
Helen: That whole thing too — I mean, you were starting out with this incredible poetic description of meat and I was thinking to myself, god, this is so seductive and beautiful, and then it took that sharp left turn, and man, yeah, you took me on an emotional journey.
Greg: All right, I am so hungry now. Thinking about all this stuff.
Helen: We need to start eating before we record these episodes.
Greg: Yeah, although I don't know, all this talk even on a full stomach might make me hungry.
José: Why didn't I bring a ham with me, an iberico ham or something?
Helen: I know. We should have required that of you.
José: Yeah, you should.
Helen: Come in wielding a ham.
José: Or cans. You could have cans of food.
Helen: I mean you guys are in LA. It wouldn't really do me much good to have the ham, but I could look at your ham and feel sad.
Greg: Right, well, we can dangle it in front of the camera. So I think we've come to the part of the show that we like to call the lightning round.
Helen: For the lightning round, we have a special guest question asker who's going to throw a few questions at you that you can answer however you like. It's someone who I think you might know.
Missy Frederick: Hey José, this is Missy Frederick. I am the associate cities editor here at Eater, and I used to run our D.C. site. I have a couple of fun questions for you.
José: Hi Missy!
Helen: Missy, I bet you have some questions for José Andrés.
Missy: If travelers only had time to hit up one bar in Barcelona, where should they go?
José: I would go to Bodega 1900, my friend Albert Adria’s place. It's kind of difficult to explain, because it's not really a bar. I don't know what it is really, but it's the vermouth hour, before going to lunch or dinner — you will go, and you will have a little vermouth with a little bit of lemon peel, maybe soda water, ice, and you will have a little cockles, a can of mussels in escabeche. That would be a great place. That would be a great, quick place to go.
Greg: Saying, "Do not serve this man"?
Helen: No, I was in Barcelona about a year ago, and my husband and I ate dinner there. It was one of the best meals of our whole trip. And we were tucked in a little table in the back corner, right underneath a photograph of a very young group of men, one of whom looks awfully like you.
José: That was probably, ‘85, ‘86 — 1985, 1986.
Greg: Oh I think I've seen this photo somewhere.
José: Yeah. Albert was there. I forgot his name, Yamamoto I think, but the first Japanese chef that ever worked at el Bulli.
Helen: Charlie Trotter is in that picture.
José: The good old times.
Helen: It's an amazing photo. I like that recommendation because I've been there so it validates my choices. All right Missy, what's your next question.
Missy: What's your favorite tapas dish?
José: My favorite tapas dish would be two answers. One: the last one I ate, regardless of what it is. But then I will say gambas al ajillo. It's like the ultimate. I think I would be happy just to have a little place that the only thing it does is gambas al ajillo.
Greg: That's the shrimp, right?
José: The shrimp. The shrimp with garlic. It's shrimp. S-H-R-I-M-P. I mean, who is the English guy that put S, H and R together? Shrimp, it's like, “Non-English speakers, I'm going to fuck up your pronunciation. Shrimp. Great.” Like, that was a psycho, that guy. I mean really. I hope it was not Shakespeare.
Helen: That bastard.
Greg: Excellent. Okay, so Missy, you got another question for Jose?
Missy: In what way is the kitchen atmosphere different here than it is in Spain?
José: Wow. Well, I've been away from Spain a long time. I know where I come from, but I know where I belong, so I'm not an expert on what's happening in the kitchens in Spain, even though I spent a lot of time there. I don't know. The difference would be that everybody in Spain works two shifts. They work probably longer hours than even we work in America. They work the a.m. shift, and they work the p.m. shift. And I think the best moment, when you do that, the a.m./p.m. thing, is that sometimes, in many restaurants, the family meal that happens is almost sacred. And whether in the kitchen, whether somewhere in the back of the restaurant, whether in the dining room, that moment that everybody really sits together, and they make the family meal together, that usually brings everybody together in a very powerful way.
In America, it also happens in a lot of places, but in Spain, I will say, it is in almost every place. You will see before the p.m. shift or after the a.m. shift, people always sitting together and having the 20, 30 minutes of having one meal together, and this is a very powerful moment.
Greg: That's awesome.
Helen: All right Missy, do you have any more for us?
Missy: In the casino, what's your game of choice?
José: Poker. I never lose. Sorry, don't sit next to me, or you will lose.
Greg: You're good at it. Do you ever play it in Vegas when you go there?
José: Yeah, I play sometimes. I play, you know, after the restaurant is closed and I don't want to go to sleep. And I have a lot of friends that are professional poker players. But I like poker to have fun, so I always try to be with people I know, so I always try to go with a lot of people because to me it's not worth losing money. Listen, we work very hard to be losing money, and if you're going to lose, at least lose to a friend, and you know the guy is going to enjoy it.
Helen: Do you have like a secret regular poker game with other really famous chefs? I love this mental picture that I'm creating right now of just a smoky table.
Greg: It’s you and Mario and —
José: No, but I played a lot when we opened the first SLS [hotel] with my boy Sam Nazarian, and all his team and all my team, even if we had been working 16 to 18 hours a day to try to open the hotel and the restaurants and everything. They would always give me the big room, not because I was the chef, but because I would be hosting the big poker game and everybody would come. Gin and tonic would be flowing. The cigar, one or two, would start being lighted, and we'd start playing poker. And that was a great moment.
And we'll play often. We played when we opened LA, we played when we opened Miami, and more often than not, we'll see the sunrise, and we'll be going somewhere to have — you know, it depends on the city we’re in — we will go for tacos in LA, or we’ll go for a Cubano sandwich in Miami. It depends on the place we will be, but we will always end playing poker by going somewhere to eat and then finally going to bed very, very, very late in the morning or very early in the morning.
Greg: Sounds like you can be a fun guy to work for. Missy, do we have another question?
José: Missy, I love you. I cannot believe you don't ask me so many questions when I'm with you there in Washington. Okay. Throw me the question. Throw me the question. I see you are in throwing questions mode. Go ahead.
Missy: What music do you listen to pump yourself up?
José: You know, there’s so much great music out there. I don't keep up anymore. I have three daughters, and everybody has their favorite. I listen to a lot of different bands.
Greg: What's the age range of the daughters?
José: Well, my three daughters, Carlota, Inés, and Lucia are 18, 15, and 12. This is a terrible question to ask a father on live radio.
Greg: Teenagers. Yeah.
José: It's good luck if I remember their ages and their names. If not, I will be crucified.
Helen: We can edit it out, if it turns out you're wrong. Pretend this didn't happen.
José: No, no, don't edit. Don't edit. Don't even dare to edit. I did it. I'm so proud. I love my daughters.
Helen: So do you listen to a lot of Ed Sheeran? One Direction?
José: I love hip-hop. I love “Whatever You Like” [by T.I.]. I love hip-hop, rap. I love classic music. I love Beyoncé. Lemonade, her last work, was unbelievable. It was so sad that she didn't win the big Grammy, but, you know, Adele is great, too. So, I'm very, very open in my music preferences.
Helen: Wait, but the question was, "What do you listen to to get pumped up?" And you answered Adele. That seems like a stretch.
José: But we need to understand that “pump up” doesn't mean that you are crazy and excited and jumping. Sometimes you can be pumped up listening to the beautiful rhythm of the waves hitting the beach. There are different ways to be pumped up. I am a guy that can be pumped up with very, very high rhythm music, but I can be pumped up with a very low — I will not say low energy, it's only a different type of energy. It brings energy from within you, energy you didn't even knew you had. Not everything has to be noisy, with big rhythm and moving quick. There’s also ways to pump yourself up with very slow rhythms. That's the true control of the force, my friend.
Helen: Oh my god.
José: Not only when everything is nutty, but when things can also be calm, and you are able to have a tear because it's touching your heart. And sometimes your heart, maybe with that very low, slow music, it's pumping even harder. So, there’s many ways to pump yourself up, not everything has to be noisy. Sometimes it's a lot of noise and not a lot of music. Within that music, it can be the music with high rhythm, but can be the music with low rhythm. To me, they are as powerful, and there’s always a moment for everything.
I am cooking sometimes and I need music that is low and mellow and that has a very unique rhythm. This is a very amazing way to pump yourself up for the days you are cooking. It's almost like [The Matrix] — you're trying to control the tempo. The high tempo isn’t necessarily more powerful than the low tempo. They are different at every moment, and you have to be able to take the best out of every moment.
Greg: Well on that note, chef, I just want to thank you so much for coming on the Eater Upsell.
Helen: I know, that was poetry. I think even if Missy had more questions we couldn't take them, because the mic has been dropped. That was beautiful.
José: Boom! Missy, I’ll see you in D.C. Margaritas on me. I'm sorry, I cannot buy margaritas. Food writers are like politicians. They cannot be bought.
Greg: That's true. That's true. And chef, on Twitter you’re @chefjoseandres?
José: @chefjoseandres. I am there. I am on Instagram sometimes, too. You know, I'm around. I'm around social media here and there.
Greg: You're amazing at social media. You’re on it.
Helen: You're a fantastic tweeter. I love your Twitter account. Strong endorse.
José: But Instagram lately, more and more. I like Instagram, too, but I love Twitter I, too. And what's the new thing? It snaps?
José: Snapchat! I’m still trying to understand how the hell it works.
Greg: I think people don't have to use it anymore.
Helen: Ask your daughters. I'm sure they know.
José: Oh my god. I'm going to give my phone to everybody, and then you call me, or I call you, and that should be more direct. I don’t know. I’m lost. Anyway, I’ll see you on Twitter, people.
Helen: Twitter. All right, well you can find José Andrés on Twitter or any of his — What was that number, 342 restaurants?
José: Don't be mean. Don't be mean.
Helen: Twenty-six right? At any of his many restaurants, including the ones that sell the salt air margarita, my favorite cocktail of all time. Thank you for joining us on the Eater Upsell.
Greg: Yeah. Thanks, chef.
Helen: And if you're not already subscribed to the Eater Upsell, but of course you are right, because you love me and Greg and you want us to be happy, you can subscribe by hitting the “subscribe” button, and tell your friends about it. Make sure everybody listens. José Andrés has good things to say, and you should hear them.
José: Thank you. Thank you guys.
Greg: Thank you.
The Eater Upsell is recorded at Vox Media Studios in Manhattan and Los Angeles
Hosts: Greg Morabito and Helen Rosner
Producer: Maureen Giannone
Associate producer/editor: Daniel Geneen
Editorial producer: Monica Burton