GL: Are you sad El Bulli closed, and will there be another like it? What is its place in the pantheon of the world's most important restaurants?
JA: I think El Bulli is the most important restaurant in the world because really it's so much bigger than a restaurant. Ferran and El Bulli, the philosophy, the open sharing of ideasthey changed the way many people thought about food and that really got people excited, because we started to see that the possibilities are endless.
El Bulli is not gone, but you can say that it is entering a new chapter with the El Bulli Foundation. One of the most amazing things about Ferran is that he is always willing to share his knowledge. He's very generous in that way, and because of that El Bulli has inspired some of the best chefs in the world. I only see that this will continue and El Bulli will only become a bigger source of inspiration for so many people around the world.
I don't think there could ever be another restaurant like El Bulli, but that's the legacy of it. I opened Minibar by José Andrés in 2003, not as a way to duplicate it but as my own way to learn, to be inspired, and to create a conversation around foodto create things that may challenge the mind and excite your senses. Creativity most often happens when you are working, so Minibar is a story of working, of talking over ideas and refining, reimagining flavors and ingredients we are familiar with. Minibar is the heart of what we do in my company. From here we are able to create É by José Andrés in Las Vegas and Saam at the Bazaar in Los Angeles, very unique places that continue this conversation and bring excitement and new ways of looking at food.
GL: When you opened Jaleo with Rob Wilder and Roberto Alvarez in 1993, it was one of the first Spanish restaurants doing tapas and modern Spanish food. It broke new ground and began a Spanish restaurant revival and appreciation for the cuisine. Was that what you set out to do?
JA: I was a young kid, just 23 years old, when I came to Jaleo and I didn't realize how important it would become in setting the stage for what Spanish cooking in America was going to be. You can hope that what you are doing people will understand, but you never really know if people will accept it. What we were doing with small plates nobody had ever done before. It was so new, but slowly people started to like it and then we saw that people were starting to replicate the tapas style in Washington, D.C., and even in other cities. As a Spaniard, this was so important to me. Tapas were the mechanism to share Spanish cooking and culture. But what we told ourselves when we opened Jaleo was not, We want to be the best Spanish restaurant in Washington. We want to be the best Spanish restaurant, period. Ten years after opening our first Jaleo, I was able to create Minibar, where I could really explore the ideas and inspirations of avant-garde Spanish cooking. And now at É by José Andrés, we really bring a focus of modern technique and thinking to the true flavors and traditions of Spanish cooking.
GL: You went on to open Zaytinya, Oyamel, and Minibar all in D.C. and then spread out to Los Angeles with the critically acclaimed Bazaar. Now you are creating other hotel restaurants for the luxury chain SBE hotel group. How have you managed this expansion, and what have you learned along the way?
JA: It is amazing, and I have a very good team that works alongside me at home in Washington and at each of my restaurants. And now we have just opened with SBE the SLS and the Bazaar by José Andrés in Miami. We built an unbelievable Jaleo in Las Vegas with the Cosmopolitan, we created a new concept, China Poblano, and a unique creative space with É by José Andrés, hidden inside of the Jaleo there. Now we are getting ready to open with the Ritz-Carlton in December in Puerto Rico.
With each partner we learn more and more about how we do what we do. My team and I have learned many lessons along the wayhow to do what we do smarter, more quickly, more efficiently. If you know my restaurants, you know that our menus have an astonishing variety of dishes. Some people think I am crazy. But it's how I like to eat. It's not only smaller plates, but also intense flavors, each dish uniquely composed. I think this is part of the future of dining: Impeccable ingredients, fascinating presentation, and thoughtful ideas with a story to share on the plate. Our guests want to be part of this journey; they want to see something, learn something, taste something they've never had before. But at the same time, they want to bite into something and taste something so familiar, so comforting. This is the challenge.