Starchefs 2009 Day Two: Jose Andres: American Cuisine Through a Spanish Lens

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Nobody is more American than Jose Andres. Then again, nobody is more Spanish than Jose Andres. Though he was born in Spain and still frequents that country to the extent that he is a major media star there, Andres has embraced the United States and seems to love nothing more than to share the culture of his native Spain with his adopted home.

Andres and his ThinkFoodGroup control a number of disparate restaurants in and around Washington D.C. as well Bazaar in Los Angeles. A friend and disciple of Ferran Adria, Andres and his team are some of the most accomplished practitioners in the United States of the style of cooking forged by Adria. This style is most evidenced in the appropriately named six seat restaurant-within-a-restaurant minibar and now the larger Bazaar. With most of his restaurants featuring more traditionally prepared cuisines, Andres opened minibar with the idea to showcase the modern techniques coming out of Spain and elsewhere, while also adding original work from himself, Katsuya Fukushima, Ruben Garcia and others. One of the principle elements of the cuisine is that it should be fun as well as delicious and beautiful. I can personally attest that at minibar, the cooking achieves all three goals.

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For Andres, the realization that a lack of cultural context and experience would make many of the "fun" elements of contemporary Spanish cooking fall flat to an American audience opened his eyes to other possibilities, specifically altering the context so that the audience would understand the reference. In his inimitable high energy style, Andres started moving about the stage , saying "When I opened
minibar, we were trying to do modern interpretations of Spanish dishes. I
would serve patrons gazpacho, and they wouldn’t know what gazpacho was.
But if I try to make a statement with a modern dish but the person
doesn’t understand the “lesson”, it becomes less fun. That’s when we
started making modern interpretations of American dishes. NE clam
chowder, Tom Collins, even corn on the cob." That is also when minibar became truly special. Andres has learned a lot in American kitchens simply by watching. Along with Ruben Garcia doing the demos, showed how he interprets American Food through Spanish eyes.

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The first dish they did was an interpretation of New England Clam Chowder. The chowder was deconstructed., but also approached in a new way. Andres discussed the genesis of this dish that has become one of minibar's signatures, "When I go out, I
often get all these American chefs making these Spanish dishes for me.
So when I went to Gramercy Tavern, I decided to make an American dish
for the American chefs." The main issue with clam chowder as Andres saw it, was that the clams were "way over-cooked." His approach would be to preserve the freshness of the clams. They found that by putting clams in boiling water for three seconds they still looked fresh, but opened more easily. Now they put the clams in a vacuum sealed bag and immerse them in boiling water for no more than thirty seconds. The clams are easy to open, yet still basically raw. From this point they open the clam carefully to preserve the liquid. With the intact clams reserved, they filter the liquid using a coffee filter. The juice is combined with gluco (100g juice to 2.5g gluco).A tablespoon is then filled to 3/4 with the juice mixture and a clam is placed in the center of the spoon. The spoon is then carefully placed in an alginate bath to encapsulate the clam in its own juice. The encapsulated clams are plated along with onion jam, warm potato foam, chive oil, crispy potato cubes, onion sprouts and for his Spanish touch jamon iberico and jamon iberico cream.

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Another American classic approached by Jose and his team was "Corn on the Cob." Andres had Garcia use a mandoline to take the kernels off ears of baby corn with ten ears of baby corn used to make a single portion of the dish. The kernels were mixed with cellulose to act as a binder than spread on paper before being rolled up onto a tapioca stick, to mimic the original ear of baby corn. The new ear was then seared and plated onto fresh corn polenta made by pureeing fresh corn, straining then cooking until thick. He also added some huitlacoche, saying, "it is all over the place, so it doesn't just belong to Mexico, it also belongs to America." The plate was finished lime segments, corn sprouts and cilantro.

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Ham and eggs remains a quintessential American breakfast dish. Andres and his team approached that as well. Getting good organic eggs is no longer a challenge, so they decided to "push the egg forward" by making their "own egg." They first made an iberico ham consommé and added xantham gum for stabilization, then similar to what they did earlier with the clams, they took a partially filled spoon of the consommé and placed the yolk from a quail egg within that before encapsulating it. Using a mandoline they sliced some bread very thin, then fried it until crisp. Andres then sliced some jamon iberico to add to the plate along with a touch of olive oil and the encapsulated egg, that still had a nice, runny yolk.

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To make their version of Eggnog, they used liquid nitrogen to make an eggshell out of coconut milk and placed frozen eggnog into the shell along with a chocolate string nest.

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The demonstration ended with the preparation of a Tom Collins. With the classic ingredients in an Isi canister, they added a carbonation cartridge, then encapsulating it with a very simple presentation on a spoon.

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Andres finished his demonstration with a shout out to his legendary countryman observing from the audience, Juan Mari Arzak.

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