November 4, 2008 / 3:42 PM / 10 years ago

Chef Andres blends traditional and modern tastes

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Jose Andres has been credited with bringing modern Spanish cooking to the United States but the 39-year-old chef said his culinary taste is a blend of his upbringing and training.

Chef Jose Andres is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Handout/ Pablo de Loy/ Courtesy THINKfood Group

Andres cited his parents for instilling in him a love for cooking. Whenever his father made paella for family and friends he put his son in charge of the fire. By 12, the younger Andres had mastered the traditional Spanish rice and seafood dish.

He pursued his culinary passion and trained with famed Spanish chef Ferran Adria, a pioneer of molecular gastronomy.

Since moving to the U.S. in 1990, Andres has been the head chef and partner in a string of popular restaurants in Washington. He is also the host of “Made in Spain,” a U.S. television food and travel series which debuted earlier this year.

He spoke to Reuters about his passion for cooking and why he does not like to eat alone:

Q: How do you describe your cuisine?

A: “My cooking is a kind of a reflection of what I grew up with from the perspective of where I live today — never leaving one or the other, but the two things. While I went down this road, my team and I developed a creative process that allows us to create new concepts, sometimes based on new cultures. I think we are like anthropologists.”

Q: Who inspired you to become A chef?

A: “My parents were always cooking so that was something that got me interested as a boy. I was very fascinated with end-of-the-month cooking. You know money is tight and you need to stretch the peseta. Croquetas would materialize from flour, milk and leftover chicken. Lentils that earlier in the month would get sausage and many good things were now plainer, more austere but no less delicious thanks to my mother’s ingenuity.”

Q: Which chefs do you admire and why?

A: “I think everyone you work with has something to teach you, whether it is Ferran Adria or a humble prep cook. Everyone has some magic in the kitchen. You just have to look and to listen — with respect always. Obviously Ferran has been a huge influence on my professional trajectory. He taught me to be methodical, to be organized, to be deliberate.”

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?

A: “Keep it simple. Remember that a few good things can sometimes be better than a ton. Let a few things speak. If not, you get a big mess. Expensive is not always better. Get the best, most beautiful, juicy tomato you can find in season and compare it to mediocre foie or something. What do you prefer? Be humble. Remember you are learning. You need to be willing to take instruction and direction from others. Be patient.”

Q: What do you cook for yourself if you eat alone?

A: “I don’t cook much for myself alone. By myself, I probably just drink a glass of white wine. Albarino probably! I don’t like to eat alone... The act of sharing a meal is important, the communal nature of it. Families or friends gather around a table. You talk. You visit with each other. That is the way it should be at home or in the restaurant.”

Lentil salad with blue Valdeon cheese (Serves 4)

(Ensalada de lentejas con queso Valdeon)

For the salad:

1 cup dried lentils

1/2 onion

1/2 head garlic, papery outer skin removed

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup diced green bell pepper

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup diced, seeded plum tomatoes

1 shallot, diced

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup chopped chives

2 ounces Valdeon (Spanish blue cheese from Castilla y

Leon), crumbled

1. Put the lentils, onion, garlic, bay leaf and 4 cups of water in a medium deep pot and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat.

2. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the lentils until tender, about 40 minutes. Strain the lentils, reserving the cooking liquid. Pour a little of the liquid over the lentils to prevent them from drying out. Discard the onion, garlic and bay leaf.

Lentil Salad with blue Valdeon cheese is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Handout/ Thomas Schauer/ "Made in Spain" published by Clarkson Potter

3. Return the remaining cooking liquid to the pot and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Boil until it has reduced to a 1/2 cup, about 20 minutes. Set reduced liquid aside to cool.

4. Put the lentils, peppers, tomatoes and shallots into a mixing bowl. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, salt and reduced lentil cooking liquid together in another mixing bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad, sprinkle with chives and mix well. Divide the salad among 4 bowls and garnish with the cheese.

Tips: A Stilton or other good-quality blue cheese may be substituted for the Valdeon.

Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney

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