Chef José Andrés, famous for his trippy, avant-garde Spanish cuisine — and now also for taking a gutsy stand against President Trump and his administration’s anti-immigrant views — couldn’t decide what he wanted to eat for lunch at his own restaurant.
He was in town to be honored by the South Beach Wine & Food Festival at a glittery, $500-per-plate dinner (where he made news when he took the stage to receive his award and undid his chef’s coat to reveal a black T-shirt proclaiming “I am an immigrant”).
A couple of days before the event, he visited his Collins Avenue restaurant, The Bazaar, at the hip SLS Hotel. But what to eat?
“Do you have tomato sauce?” he asked a kitchen staffer.
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Of course they did.
“Have them take some green peppers, cubed small, like for a Brunoise, and sautée that and add the tomato sauce and cook it down.” Andrés paused, pulled out his phone, scrolled to a snapshot he took some time ago of a recipe for eggs Havanese, which he found in a book called “Cuban Cookery,” published in the early 1900s. “Cook it like a chup-chup. Or almost like a pisto manchego. And then let’s taste it.”
Andrés, who in the fall opened the seafood-centric Bazaar Mar at the SLS Hotel in the Brickell area, began his career as an apprentice to his buddy Ferran Adrià at the experimental, legendary El Bulli in Spain’s Costa Brava. Back then, Andrés had no thoughts about leaving his homeland, much less about winding up in New York City, one more immigrant scraping to figure out how to get in on the American dream. But he was in his early 20s, and there had been a silly spat with Adriá (something about Andrés’s punctuality).
“It was a nothing fight,” Andrés said during an interview some years back. “We got over it right away and we’re still best friends. ... I left and I called him from New York. I figured I’d spend six months away and then go back home.”
He didn’t expect that his youthful impulsivity would change his life forever, that he’d still be in the United States 25 years later, that he’d come to own 27 restaurants around the world, that he and his wife would have three American-born daughters, that in 2013, they’d become American citizens themselves. Certainly, he didn’t expect he’d wind up being the first chef in history to be involved in a lawsuit with a sitting president, as Anthony Bourdain, who emceed the wine fest tribute to Andrés, told the crowd on Feb. 25.
“In the United States, we’re all immigrants,” Andrés, 47, said while he waited for the sauce he requested from his kitchen to materialize. “We’re all so grateful to this country for all of the opportunities, for the freedoms that this country stands for. But just because we are so incredibly grateful doesn’t mean that we should allow ourselves to be disrespected. We immigrants have also been great contributors to this country from the start. From the hard-working immigrant who washes dishes in the most humble restaurant somewhere in this country’s heartland, to the ones who get up before the sun to work in the fields, hoping to create better futures for their families — every immigrant here is worthy of respect.”
That’s why, in the summer of 2015, after a campaigning Trump started labeling Mexican immigrants criminals, rapists and “bad hombres”, Andrés decided he had no choice but to pull out of a deal to open a restaurant at the new Trump Hotel in Washington, the city where Andrés’ company, Think Food Group, is based and where he operates half a dozen other successful restaurants. Trump sued Andrés for $10 million for breach of contract, and the chef countersued.
“I was thinking as a businessman above all,” Andrés says. “I wasn’t going to open a Spanish restaurant in Trump’s hotel after he made those remarks about Mexicans and other immigrants, because who was going to come to that restaurant?”
The lawsuit is ongoing, and Trump sat for a deposition in early January, when he was still president-elect. Before that, Andrés had publicly offered to settle their legal issues by both donating money to a good cause, a veteran’s group or some other charity.
“But he ignored that offer, which is still good, by the way,” says Andrés, who never intended to emerge as a national champion for immigrant rights, but believes he has a responsibility to continue speaking out.
“My wife and I became American citizens because after so many years in this country, we feel we are American, though of course I never forget where I come from. But I’ve lived more of my life in this country than in my homeland. In retrospect, given the new administration’s policies against immigrants, you could say I was being a visionary to become a citizen. Or who knows, maybe I would have been pulled over one day for some traffic violation and been thrown out of the country.”
The sauce finally arrives in a small pan, with a plastic spoon for Andrés to use for tasting. He has been curious about eggs Havanese, which he hadn’t heard of until he found the recipe in the vintage Cuban cookbook. But Andrés being Andrés, he has to turn the recipe on its head, deconstruct it, re-conceptualize it. While he’s reading through it on his phone screen, you can almost see the wheels turning.
“Strain the sauce, then add piquillo peppers, chopped very fine,” he says. “Fry that down. Put an egg yolk in it to thicken it up. And then serve it on top of a [flat, round] egg-white omelet. Not so much sauce that we can’t see the white underneath. Oh, and on top, put a couple of raw egg yolks, a good olive oil, salt. And bring us some toasted bread.”
Suddenly he recalls the waiter who walked through the dining room a few minutes earlier carrying champagne coupes filled with something amber, springs of mint on top.
What were those cocktails that we just saw passing through? They came in from the bar outside. Whatever they are, they looked good. Bring us two,” he says. Turns out they’re Old Cubans (dark rum, lime juice, Angostura bitters, simple syrup, champagne, mint), which delights Andrés, because now he has a theme going. To round out the Cuban-inspired lunch, he asks for the medianoche sliders on mini croissants that are on the lunch menu.
“This Cuban Cookery book may be the only one to treat the difference between fried eggs Spanish style and friend eggs Cuban style,” he says.
But is there really a difference?
“Well, yes. In the Cuban version, the oil is just a little cooler, and you want to almost poach the yolk and the white. In the Spanish version, the oil is hotter, and you want a more fried, crisped white.’’