José Andrés may be the most visible chef in the world today, as comfortable in a flak jacket and helmet in Ukraine as he is in a chef’s uniform in Los Angeles, New York City or Washington, D.C. For that matter, he’s a natural comic on a TV set with Stephen Colbert. The gregarious, irrepressible Spanish chef — a naturalized American citizen since 2013 — bubbles over with passion for his homeland’s bounty and is on a mission to feed those in need. He heads not only 30+ restaurants but also founded World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit that pops up in disaster areas and war zones to serve meals for the hungry (185 million in Ukraine last year alone).
He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 and made TIME magazine’s annual list of 100 Most Influential People in both 2012 and 2018. Then TIME referred to his “leadership in crisis” in a 2020 cover story. Last year, Ron Howard directed a documentary about him, We Feed People, and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery commissioned a painting of him by artist Kadir Nelson for its Portrait of a Nation exhibition.
His popular pandemic-era Instagram videos where we watched Andrés interact with his family in his home kitchen led the way to the new Discovery+ series José Andrés and Family in Spain. Here, he hits the road in delightful pursuit of culinary adventures across his home country with his daughters in tow: 23-year-old Carlota, 21-year-old Inés and 18-year-old Lucía. “To really get to know Spain, you have to know its food,” he tells viewers. For Artful Living readers, he offers his perspective on mealtime in Spain, for which the dining rituals seem to be countless.
What inspired you to create a show with your daughters as you traverse Spain?
During the darkest days of the pandemic, my family had a rare opportunity to spend time together and share moments of cooking on social media, making videos that we called “Recipes for the People.” Of course, we made many dishes from Spain, where I’m originally from. My three daughters have been visiting Spain with my wife and me since they were very young. It might not be the country where they were born, but it is deep in their DNA. So when the opportunity came to make this show, to take what we had been doing on social media and share it with the world, we had to jump at it.
How would you describe your home country to someone who hasn’t been there?
To me, Spain is a country of modernity and tradition, the sea and the mountains, two worlds that are always coming together as one. We have such deep history, from before the Roman Empire to the time of Al-Andalus, when the Arabs ruled the country, to the cultural explosions of the past 50 years. And we are home to some of the most creative people of all time — think of the artist Dalí, the architect Gaudí and Ferran Adrià, the brilliant mastermind behind El Bulli. So when you come visit, you will see all of these things — and of course you will be able to taste it, too!
In your mind, what defines Spanish cuisine?
We are all about the very best ingredients in the world: olive oils, wines, cured and fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, all growing under the beautiful Spanish sun. Our dishes make the most of those incredible products, treating them simply and with respect. All of that, plus our history defined by a deep love for tradition and interest in innovation, leads to some of the most exciting, delicious food in the world.
What regional foods should a traveler taste?
Every region is unique, which is one of the major points we were trying to make with this show. Spain has a rich and complex history and geography, so everywhere you go, you’ll get to taste new things. In the south, you should try the cold soups of Andalusia. In Valencia, you can’t miss paella, of course. In my native Asturias, it’s the cheeses of the mountains and stews like fabada (stew of broad beans and pork).
Which restaurants should be on every gourmand’s bucket list?
To narrow the list of restaurants in one of the best eating countries on the planet is a very difficult thing to do! I will give you two, but you should know that there are many, many more — of course the ones that my daughters and I visit on the show, but also so many more around the country in regions that we didn’t visit. In the Basque region alone, you could find 10 of the best restaurants in the world.
So I will mention to you Casa Marcial in my native Asturias, where Nacho Manzano and his family are doing absolute magic. You cannot miss his fabada. And then Disfrutar in Barcelona, which is the legacy of El Bulli, once the best restaurant in the world. The three chefs there, Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch, are geniuses who will give you one of the most spectacular shows on earth.
What’s the most important meal of the day in Spain?
I could make an argument that every meal is the most important one — it depends on where you are and what you’re eating! If it’s the morning and I have a plate of huevos rotos (fried eggs with runny yolks over potatoes) in front of me, then breakfast is the most important. If I have a bikini sandwich (hot ham and cheese, as known in Barcelona and Catalonia, but as mixto elsewhere) with truffles, then maybe lunch is most important. Or is it la hora del vermut — the vermouth hour — when I’m eating olives and almonds, and having a glass of vermouth to open up the appetite before dinner? Or if I’m eating tapas, with cheeses, jamón, croquetas and gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) alongside a glass of albariño, then I would choose dinner. Or maybe the most important meal is after dinner, when I’m drinking a gin and tonic?