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Tapas and high tech

Chef Jose Andres, culinary conquistador, brings his vision to L.A.

September 24, 2008|Betty Hallock | Times Staff Writer

JOSE ANDRES, always charming, is the life of the party at a soiree in the Hollywood Hills, and guests are circling around him next to the infinity pool. Chef Andres is scooping caviar onto slices of jamon iberico (ham from the black-footed pigs of Spain), rolling it up and placing it directly into their mouths.

"I'm feeding you one bite at a time," Andres tells the small crowd. It's a line he uses often. Who knew he meant it literally?

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 24, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Chef Jose Andres: An article in today's Food section about Spanish chef Jose Andres states that "Spain . . . On the Road Again" is a new PBS show; actually, it is distributed by American Public Television.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, September 26, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Recipes: Recipes that accompanied Wednesday's article in the Food section about Spanish chef Jose Andres should have included more information. The Galician lobster and the apple and fennel salad recipes were developed by Andres. The olive oil pancakes were developed by Andres and published in the cookbook "Made in Spain."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 01, 2008 Home Edition Food Part F Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Recipes: Recipes that accompanied a Sept. 24 Food article about Spanish chef Jose Andres should have included more information. The Galician lobster and the apple and fennel salad recipes were developed by Andres. The olive oil pancakes were developed by Andres and published in the cookbook "Made in Spain."

Andres, bright-blue-eyed and often dressed in an untucked button-down shirt and khakis or jeans, has, with his restaurants, TV show and cookbooks, helped bring a Spanish culinary revolution to the U.S. in the last 15 years -- and he's busier than ever feeding people. Says Sam Nazarian, the host of the party and chief executive of SBE, the company behind Andres' coming L.A. restaurant: "I've had a harder time chasing Jose than chasing women."

Already chef-partner of seven restaurants in and around Washington, D.C., Andres has recently returned from the Canary Islands, where he taped the final episode of the second season of his PBS-aired cooking show, "Made in Spain." His third book, "Made in Spain: Spanish Dishes for the American Kitchen," hits the shelves in November, the month his L.A. restaurant -- the Bazaar at the new SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills -- is expected to open.

It's an exuberant experiment in dining, located in the public space of the 11,500-square-foot hotel lobby, with several whimsical dining areas: a cocktail bar and raw bar, a space featuring his tapas as well as cured meats and cheeses, a "patisserie" with a display kitchen and a roving "street food" cart. "Who needs one more chef in one more building with four walls and a kitchen?" Andres asks.

"I'm bored with the system of it. I want people to be able to move around, not feel chained at a table," he says, sitting down to lunch at Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood (he's starting to look uncomfortable squeezed into a circular banquette in the middle of the dining room). "I want energetic, unpretentious, fun."

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Diving right in

Those ARE the same words that describe Andres, who often punctuates his sentences with "amiga" or "amigo" and is a bit of a daredevil, a bullfighting fan not afraid to battle a big wave or two for gooseneck barnacles.

He and Nazarian, a nightlife impresario who has successfully marketed the Katsuya chain of slick sushi restaurants (among others), "were meant for each other," says Andres, whose title is culinary director and partner of SLS Hotels. They have in common unbridled ambition.

The SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills is a reportedly $230-million project, and more hotels are planned for Las Vegas, Miami and beyond. The hotels, the restaurants, the clubs -- all seem to promote what a brand manager might call "the SBE lifestyle."

But Andres insists the Bazaar, designed by Philippe Starck, "isn't gimmicky." It might be exactly the way people want to eat right now -- a little of this, a little of that, with a lot of entertainment factor.

SBE also is opening XIV in West Hollywood next month, a venue for chef Michael Mina and yet another Starck-designed restaurant -- the theme is a European chateau.

Andres, who was born in the Asturias province of Spain and grew up in Barcelona, opened Jaleo tapas restaurant in D.C.'s Penn Quarter in 1993 after stints at a couple of less successful restaurants in New York.

"When I would tell people I work in a tapas place -- I don't know if it was my accent -- they would think topless. . . . Everyone would look at me very weird," he said during an appearance on "Late Show With David Letterman" a couple of years ago. But now "Spanish cooking is very hot and everyone is eating, reading Spanish things." Nobody thinks he's working in a topless place.

Andres and his partners, under the name ThinkFoodGroup, have two more Jaleo restaurants, Cafe Atlantico (with a nuevo Latino menu), Oyamel (Mexican) and Zaytinya (eastern Mediterranean), all in the D.C. area.

Minibar is his six-seat restaurant on the second floor of Cafe Atlantico. There he unleashes his most creative culinary techniques -- a deconstructed glass of white wine (white wine gelee dotted with flavor components such as a mint leaf, lemon zest or vanilla bean seeds), salmon-pineapple "ravioli" with crispy quinoa, a saffron gumdrop in an edible wrapper -- the meal orchestrated in a series of "bites."

There's no doubt that Andres, 39, a onetime crew member of a four-masted schooner ("the most beautiful ship in the world") who studied cooking at Barcelona's Escola de Restauracio i Hostalatge and worked for Ferran Adria at El Bulli, is a busy man. "I'm in meetings all day, about the Bazaar and other projects, testing new recipes all day, talking to key members of my team, trying to get the new system up and running, finalizing the opening menus," he says.

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Chef or TV star?

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