What do molecular gastronomy and tacos have in common?
They are both absolutely beloved by José Andrés.
The influential Spanish celebrity chef, known for his thick accent and infectious passion for food, hardly spends time in Los Angeles these days but he has built a strong appreciation for the city nonetheless. His restaurants The Bazaar and Saam introduced the first batch of liquid nitrogen-frozen popcorn to the city back in 2008, and they're still going strong in 2016, turning Angelenos on to the simple joy of a modernist Philly cheesesteak on air-bread.
Luckily, he's currently in town—along with other greats like Alain Ducasse, Jamie Bissonnette, and Sean Brock—for the All-Star Chef Classic. MUNCHIES caught up with him over the phone to talk about why he thinks LA is one of the best eating cities in the world.
MUNCHIES: Hi, José. How are you? José: Whenever I'm on the West Coast, I am always great. There are always so many things happening here at once.
What do you think of LA as an international dining destination? Let me tell you: I would always get comments saying, "There is nothing exciting happening in LA." I remember the first time I came 20 years ago—coming to LA meant just going to eat at Patina and then going to Wolfgang Puck's. Then, when I moved here to open The Bazaar, I would get lost a lot in the many neighborhoods that this city has. This is a very, very big city under any standard.
What I love about LA is that whatever is happening around America and around the world will always be happening in just this one city. It could be a food truck. It could be a taco place without a sign at the door. It could be a Chinese soup dumpling, and it could be high-end. Quite frankly, I will disagree when people tell me, "LA is not New York. LA is not Paris." LA is like an ocean. It can take you two to three hours to get one from one point of LA to another.
LA is very powerful and I think LA is on top of its game.
The most fascinating thing for me about LA are all of the neighborhoods. You can go to Mexican quarters, the Korean quarters, the Japantown, or to the high-ends of Beverly Hills, or to the informalities of eating by the beach. LA is very powerful and I think LA is on top of its game.
What do you think about our tacos? At my restaurant Oyamel, we get our corn from Mexico and we make our own masa, so I'm very well-versed in Mexican cuisine. However, what I like about LA are the tacos that somehow don't belong anywhere. The tacos that have the flair of Mexico but somehow—either by other immigrants or by American chefs—become something new. I'm so amazed at how big the tacos are here, though. I like more the traditional Mexican tacos that are only one bite.
What dishes do you come to LA to eat? I was at Grand Central Market earlier today, and I had the eggslut breakfast sandwich and it was really delicious; I understood the lines. I love Asian and Japanese food. When I opened Bazaar, I was so happy that we were close to Matsuhisa. I'm always a big fan of Nobu and I love to get lost at Sushi Zo for their pure nigiris that can compete with the best restaurants in Japan. I eat lots of ramen here, too.
I don't go out that much because I have to be at my restaurant whenever I'm here, but you name it. I think the boys at Animal do a great job and Nancy Silverton is a true legend with bread. Mozza is a great place, especially the concept of her mozzarella bar. I remember going early on to Umami Burger and that burger was something else.
Restaurants are real and are like people. They have feelings. You have to give time to the restaurants to mature and to grow.
I eat at very diverse places here. Trois Mec is amazing, too. Ludo is a great guy. Then, Roy Choi with Locol? I can keep on going. In this sense, there is never enough time because there are so many places.
How has LA changed since you've opened up your first restaurant here? When I came to LA, I came very scared and very humble. I think the city really received us really well. Bazaar is not really a Spanish restaurant—I wouldn't even call it eclectic. I was very amazed by how my Philly cheesesteak became so popular here. I don't have it at my restaurant in Washington DC, so when I put it here I couldn't believe that every person would order it. However, I am the happiest at Saam here in LA. I can tell you the cooking that we are doing at Saam is some of the most serious cooking anywhere. I'm really happy at how Angelenos have took good care of me.
How do you run a restaurant? Cooking is a marathon—it goes slowly. It is all about hard work and team effort. You keep refining and you keep improving, and you keep working hard. Restaurants are places that are alive; they are more than just four walls and a kitchen. Restaurants are real and are like people. They have feelings. You have to give time to the restaurants to mature and to grow.
Why did you choose to open one of your restaurants here? I didn't choose—life chooses for me. I saw that I could do something unique and special here and I did it. I've had other opportunities to bring some of my other concepts here but I didn't do it because I wanted to concentrate on Bazaar so it can be the best restaurant that it can be.
Have you considered opening more restaurants here? I like LA a lot. Would I ever bring some of my other concepts here? Probably. I wish I can be here more but unfortunately my home is Washington DC. I keep saying no to opportunities because I like to move a piece when I feel that I'm covered behind. I think China Poblano would do great here, so I think one day that will happen. I also want to open a Sephardic Jewish restaurant here, too. I think LA should be the place for that.
One day soon enough we will bring more of my concepts here. I've always been very slow in my life.
Thanks for speaking with me.