Wednesday, October 18, 2017

é by José Andrés - Las Vegas


There's a phenomenon on social media lately that whenever a celebrity chef expresses an opinion on political or social issues, a chorus of those whose sensibilities diverge insist that the chef should "stay in their lane." In other words, talk about food all you want, but keep your politics to yourself. The reaction seems inherently ridiculous to me – if you don't like it, the "unfollow" button is a simple, elegant solution – and hypocritical. Unless, that is, all these "stay in your lane" folks are actually career political scientists themselves, or perhaps professional life coaches.

I bring this up here because Chef José Andrés is a powerful retort to that kind of nonsense, someone whose talk has been backed up by meaningful, thoughtful action. The day after Hurricane Harvey cleared Texas, he was in Houston feeding people. A month later when Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico, he was there within days serving meals. Over the past weeks, he's mobilized a brigade of food trucks and canteen kitchens to serve 100,000 meals a day, while getting minimal support from the federal government, in a territory with an almost entirely broken infrastructure.[1]

But this shouldn't come as a surprise. His charity work is not simply a reaction to recent events, but a commitment that dates back to at least 2010, when he founded a non-profit, World Central Kitchen, as a response to a devastating earthquake in Haiti. When, in mid-2016, then-candidate Trump described Mexicans as criminals and rapists, Andrés – an immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen himself – didn't just gripe about it on Twitter. He pulled out of a multi-million dollar restaurant deal at a Trump property in DC, risking the inevitable lawsuit from the litigation-happy candidate. (Andrés countersued, and the case settled in April on undisclosed terms.)

All of which is to say: José Andrés can cruise in any lane he wants, as far as I'm concerned.

While the work he's doing now in Puerto Rico is infinitely more important, those lanes do actually include chef and restaurateur as well. Andrés' restaurants include the Michelin two-star Minibar, along with a mini-empire of places in DC, LA, Miami, and Las Vegas, the last of which I visited recently for a conference.[2] While there, I squeezed in a dinner at é by José Andrés, an 8-seat "restaurant within a restaurant" inside Jaleo at the Cosmopolitan.

(You can see all my pictures in this é by José Andrés - Las Vegas flickr set).


The format of é is patterned after the original iteration of Minibar in DC with a dollop of Vegas glitz. Its roughly 20-course tasting menu is unabashedly inspired by the creations of Andrés' mentor, Ferran Adrià, with whom Andrés worked at El Bulli in Spain before going on to tremendous success in the U.S. I'd visited é once before, though I hadn't realized how long ago it had been – nearly six years. The room, centered by a polished metal chef's counter surrounded by walls lined with tiny drawers and odd tchotchkes, hasn't changed much. One of the chefs said it was meant to make you feel like "You're inside Chef Andrés' head." (It kind of does.) The menu was almost entirely different, though there were some echoes of prior meals.


Guests are corralled at a table in Jaleo and offered a drink before the dinner at é starts. After a few minutes, the hostess divulges that the centerpiece on the table is also the first course: a cracker flavored with black olive, stuck with edible flowers.


Then upon entering the cloistered dining room, a cocktail: sangria, frozen and powdered to a slushie-like consistency, with compressed melon, sour cherry pearls, and fresh mint leaves.[3]


A cheese course of sorts: a soft-frozen manchego and beet rose topping a walnut cracker, "stones" of idiazabal cheese with a jamón and rosemary glaze nestled atop a bowl of river stones; and a "pizza" of San Simon cheese topped with oregano cream, dried tomato, and fresh shaved truffle.

(continued ...)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Food For Good

Given the latest spate of disasters and losses, it's been hard to summon the passion to write about my favorite last meal. But if you're looking for a way to feed your appetite and do some good, here are a few suggestions:


Chefs For the Keys | Friday October 6 @ Riviera Beach Marina Village

A lineup of more than two dozen Palm Beach chefs will be participating in this event, with all of the proceeds of the $125 per person admission going to benefit Florida Keys food and beverage hospitality industry workers who have been out of work as a result of Hurricane Irma (use the link above to get tickets).


Recipes for Change | Saturday October 14 @ Casa Florida

Next weekend, chef Santiago Gomez will host an international brigade of chefs at Casa Florida in the Roam Miami (a/k/a the Miami River Inn), including Carlos Garcia of Venezuela's Alto, and also opening Obra Kitchen in Miami; Sebastian La Rocca from El Mangroove in Costa Rica; Mirciny Moliviatis of Guatemala; Xavier Torres of Miami's Drunken Dragon, and Renzo Garibaldi of Peru's Osso Carniceria. $25 will get you 6 bites, $50 for unlimited bites and a drink, with 100% of the moneys collected going to the families of local farmers affected by Hurricane Irma (use the link to get tickets).


Or, you can make a contribution to World Central Kitchen, an organization spearheaded by Chef José Andrés, which was on the ground in Puerto Rico two days after Hurricane Maria, and has already delivered over 100,000 meals and plans to deliver another 20,000 meals a day for the next several weeks. You can read more about what they're doing here. It's absolutely remarkable and vital work. Maybe consider matching what you'll spend on a dinner this weekend with a contribution to help feed those in need.