Interview with Chef Jose Andres of Zaytinya – Washington, DC

October 2011

Pamela Lewy: How did you start cooking? Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
Jose Andres: When I was growing up in Spain, my father used to cook big and festive meals and as long as I can remember I used to help him cook. I used to watch him and maintain the fire and make sure dishes like paella did not overcook. I was always upset that I couldn’t help more with the vegetables. One day when I was 14 when I asked him if I could do more he told me that maintaining the fire was the most difficult and important part of the entire process.

PL: Where did you train?
JA: From 1985-1989, I studied at the Escola de Restauracio I Hostalatge de Barcelona. While in school, I gained practical experience in restaurants El Bulli and Neichel. My final training was at the Cenador del Prado in Madrid.

PL: Who influenced your cooking the most?
JA: Ferran Adrià.

PL: Which chefs do you respect amongst your peers?
JA: Katsuya Fukushima of Café Atlantico and Rodolfo Guzman of Jaleo.

PL: What is your most indispensable cooking tool?
JA: A plancha, which is a flat griddle-like pan. We use it a lot in my restaurants.

PL: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
JA: Barcelona, Istanbul, and Washington DC.

PL: What are some of your favorite food haunts in your city?
JA: Citronelle, Yanyu, and Equinox in Washington D.C.

PL: What is your favorite spice to use?
JA: Saffron because it is the ultimate Spanish spice.

PL: Is there a culinary technique that you use in an unusual way?
JA: Organized salad and modernized classic American food.

PL: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential line cook?
JA: Do you know how to cook everything? Sometimes they say yes but usually after 24 or 48 hours, they’ll admit that they don’t. If they admit that they don’t, it means they are willing to learn from scratch. If you approach me with an attitude that you know everything, you will never open yourself up to learning all that you can.

PL: What advice do you have for culinary students just getting started?
JA: Be humble.

PL: Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
JA: Still concentrating on creating new dishes. In ten years, I’d possibly like open up a restaurant in New York.