2017 Best Restaurateur: José Andrés
Modernist cuisine can sometimes be seen as cold and clinical, but chef José Andrés, one of the movement’s prominent figures, is anything but. Rather, he is very jovial and giving of his time and talents. (We know this from personal experience!)
With more than 20 restaurants under the ThinkFoodGroup umbrella, José Andrés’ culinary empire certainly qualified him for GAYOT’s top restaurateur honor. However, our admiration was taken to an even greater level this year by his response to the devastation in Puerto Rico. With so many people in need of basic sustenance, he did what would come most natural to a chef: Cook! His World Central Kitchen non-profit organization, which he formed in 2012 in response to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, has served more than 3 million meals in Puerto Rico and that number continues to grow.
Let’s go back in time and examine the ascent of this remarkable chef/restaurateur. José Andrés was born in 1969 in the northern region of Asturias, Spain. He began his culinary studies at the Escola de Restauració i Hostalatge in Barcelona, Spain, then apprenticed at the world-famous elBulli with chef Ferran Adrià from 1988-1990. (His experiences in this cradle of modernist cuisine would prove highly influential, as anyone who has enjoyed a magical meal of molecular gastronomy at minibar by José Andrés in Washington, D.C., The Bazaar by José Andrés in Los Angeles or é by José Andrés in Las Vegas can attest.)
In 1991, he came to the United States to work at El Dorado Petit in New York City. (He’d fallen in love with the country as a young man serving in the Spanish Navy.) This first venture did not work out, but in 1993 he had the opportunity to lead the kitchen at Jaleo, a pioneering D.C. restaurant specializing in Spanish small plates. His success in and around the nation’s capital continued throughout the following decade with taking over the kitchen of Café Atlantico in 1995, Jaleo Bethesda opening in 2001, the debut of Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Zaytinya in 2002, the six-seat minibar by José Andrés unveiled in Café Atlantico in 2003, and Jaleo and Oyamel Cocina Mexicana opening in Crystal City, Virginia, in 2004.
In 2005, José Andrés expanded his culinary influence in more arenas with the publication of his first cookbook, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America, and his first television program, “Vamos a Cocinar,” which became the top rated cooking series in Spain. (Andrés would later go on to bring a taste of his home country to American audiences with the PBS TV series “Made in Spain,” which spawned an accompanying cookbook.) The following year, Andrés and business partner Rob Wilder formed the company ThinkFoodGroup to manage their many projects.
José Andrés landed on the West Coast with a bang in 2008 when he partnered with sbe founder Sam Nazarian, who is the reason why the LA food scene is what is today. As Culinary Director for the sbe group’s luxury hotel SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, Andrés introduced Los Angeles to trendy hotspot The Bazaar by José Andrés, the casual Tres, and, in 2009, SAAM at The Bazaar by José Andrés, which would go on to become one of GAYOT’s Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S. in 2016. These restaurants were notable for their whimsical décor by world-renowned designer Philippe Starck as well as their inventive modernist cuisine — the food might have had roots in Spain but the imagination was flying high.
After LA, it was on to Las Vegas with Jaleo, China Poblanoand é by José Andrés opening in The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas in 2010, then in 2012 on to Miami with The Bazaar by José Andrés at SLS South Beach and Puerto Rico with Mi Casa at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve (currently closed due to hurricane damage).
The last few years have included still more new restaurant openings, including Bazaar Meat by José Andrés (one of GAYOT’s Top 10 Steakhouses in the U.S.) at SLS Las Vegas and J by José Andrésin Mexico City, to name a few.
The future holds more exciting projects from José Andrés. America Eats Tavern by José Andrés is relocating to the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., while Zaytinya is opening its second outlet in Dallas and Jaleo is branching out with a fifth location at the Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment district at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
SAAM at The Bazaar by José Andrés, the intimate fine-dining space at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, shuttered in 2017 to make way for Somni. Named after the Catalan word for “dream,” this will be a joint dining concept with his culinary director, chef Aitor Zabala. Since Andrés wants it to be a step up from SAAM, our expectations are high.
Over more than two decades, chef/restaurateur José Andrés has helped popularize Spanish tapas in the U.S., as well as put his own spin on a variety of styles, from modernist to Mexican to Eastern Mediterranean and beyond. He is a seemingly endless font of creativity. All the while, he has proved a very amiable character and demonstrated great dedication in helping not just his friends, but also those in great need.
> This article is part of GAYOT’s 2017 Annual Restaurant Awards.