Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unexpectedly Lucky - Chef Jose Andres Interview

Through the miracles of perseverance and making impressions on key people, I got an interview with Chef Jose Andres.  However, I was not made aware of this fact until I hit Harvard Square on my way to wait in line for his lecture.  All I had was a hard copy of compiled questions, an old school cell, a notebook, camera and my wits. Rookie!

I decide to head over to the Science Center, because he had to be close.  It's quite early and there are only a few people in line. I end up sitting next to the first person in line, a Harvard freshman named Bianca Okafor. We get to chatting and I find out that she's Harvard's Culinary Society Web Editor. I tell her about my mission and divulge that that I'm about to receive a call for an interview.  The phone rings and it's Chef' Andres' PR rep. and I start getting the low down on the location. On the fly, I commit Bianca to be my guide and transcriber for the interview.  All I remember is giving her a thumbs up and lots of nodding on her end.

We're off and running to the Charles Hotel.  She's leading the way and I'm struggling to keep up.  She mentions that it's just like being late for class.  It gave me flashbacks, but didn't change my lack of stamina. She eventually slows down when we get to the building, and we take a couple minutes to gather ourselves before we enter the lobby.   

We meet up with Cathy Huyghe of Feast NBC and call Russell, Chef Andres' PA.  Russell hits the lobby first and introduces himself.  He lets us know that the interview is going to happen right where we are.  Bianca and I get set up and pass as veterans, at least we think so.  Chef makes his way over and we are with him for over an hour.

Chef Jose Andres evaluating my brittle
At the end of the interview, I present him with a piece of Asian cold sesame noodle inspired brittle that I made.  He takes a bite and tells me that it's good.  Then he says, "You know what will make this better?"  See how the nuts make the candy thick. You can pulverize the nuts into a powder, take two non-stick baking mats and squeeze it very thin.  That would be great.  He asked if he could take some for later and I gave him the whole bag.  I'll have to try his suggestion and see how it works out.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I approach him with our quandary about getting into the event with everyone waiting in line. Russell suggests that we head over with them. We gladly tag along. As we're walking, I hang back and start chatting with Chef.  He starts giving me blogger advice.  He tells me that I need to be responsible, honest and magnanimous no matter how many followers I have. 

Chef Jose Andres emailing in Harvard Square

He's emailing and I'm trying to keep him away from the oncoming traffic.  I get the opportunity to tell him that I followed the advice he gave me after the Chef Adria event.  I reminded him that he said, "Keep asking questions." His reaction was, "I've created a monster".  I replied with, "Aren't you a monster with all that you do?"  After a little bantering, he puts up his hand and we do a high five.  Sounds corny, but it was pretty great. 

Here's the moment you all have been waiting for.  I did my best to fit in as many questions as possible while managing segues.  I am sorry that some contributors did not get their questions answered.

Interview as recorded by Bianca in addition to some content addition by yours truly.  I asked all the questions (except for Bianca's), but credit the originators below.

JD: Have you encountered a moment that any of your three daughters discovered food in a way you never thought of and integrated it into a dish?

Yes, once one of the girls began running a strawberry on a skewer through the cotton candy machine as we were making candy.  I believe that introducing food to children in new ways encourage culinary creativity.  Children are created equally in food making ability, but they need to be pushed to have a good relationship with food.

JD: What does the future hold for school meals now that you have been to the White House to exchange ideas?

I believe Michelle Obama acts as a great motherly figure to encourage better eating habits.  She is getting us all to commit to a better future.  It will happen anyway but maybe 10, 20, 30 years later.  However, Michelle can make things happen quickly.  Children aren't being fed the best right now.  The seeds are being planted and the future is looking good.  This diet change cannot happen by push from the upper class.  It has to happen within the people that are struggling with it themselves.  There needs to be a revolution.  High up preachers aren't very effective.  Every revolution needs to be endorsed by people that stand to benefit from the revolution themselves.  Mothers need to say one day "enough is enough." There must be change.

Heather Atwood: Do you consider the Avant Garde movement akin to Cubism in which select artists were doing something incredibly important, but ended because no one could follow the genius?

Food is more three dimensional than art or any other movement itself.  Artistic expression, culinary expression.  "Everything in life has moments of peaks." The movements (such as the gastronomy) have been moving much quicker.  Gastronomy should be limited to a few restaurants because "at end of day we don't go everyday to a museum." 

Jigme of Dorchester, MA: What fundamental techniques do you practice and maintain on a regular basis?

I've been into solar cooking lately, a few hours every week.  I've been using a pressure cooker and at home we also fry a lot (Spanish heritage) and we are still healthy.  Moderation. In the restaurant, we fry, steam, boil, bake...  We use every technique imaginable.

Nick of San Diego, CA: You once told Anderson Cooper on 60 minutes that "fresh food is sexy."  What is the sexiest fruit or vegetable right now in your opinion?

Men and women view sexiness differently.  I believe sexiness is experiencing a moment of outburst of energy by an image by a smell, image, look, texture.  Vegetables are sexy from a man's view. Nothing is more feminine than a mango or pineapple.  It grabs my attention, "Peel me, use me."  My wife attracted me in the same as a mango.  Sexiness is something that attracts you.  "It's highly difficult to express. It's not one thing but many at once."

JD: What Spanish ingredients other than olive oil, Iberico ham and Pimenton have peaked your interest lately?

Cheese is great.  La Serena cheese.  Cabrales cheese (blue cheese).  "I am more kind of a chef of the world." Wines and products from the world.  Every wine. Deep fried fruit. 

JD: I was wondering if you could talk about one of your daughter's first flavor experiences that paralleled your own?

Mother’s milk. It was in the refrigerator in bottles, so I had to try it.  “You would drink milk from a cow you never met, but you wouldn’t taste mother’s milk?”  It’s sweet and rich.  People from fast food chains must have tasted mother’s milk to develop products.

Bianca: What is the strangest food you've ever eaten?

Strange food is anything you've never experienced before.  It's a very complex concept.  When approaching a new food, I ask why I haven't tried this before I say, not necessarily "eww."  It's all about getting used to it.  Perceptual, strange food.  Nothing is really strange to me.

JD: Did anything in Boston inspire you to create a dish?

Harvard itself.  It's great being near all the professors.  Culinary purpose is key to creating a great dish.  Ingredients have been around for thousands of years, the only difference is that in the last few years we've been using them with finesse.  Using great ingredients is underrated. You need finesse to create something great. 


Thanks to everyone who contributed questions and spread the word to get them to OCQ.  I'd like to give a special thanks to Cathy Huyghe for being my advocate to get the interview.  Bianca for her enthusiasm and quick thinking.  Heather Atwood of the Gloucester Times for all her great advice.  Last, but not least Chef Jose Andres for empowering people to learn and share knowledge.  Let's not forget Russell and Laura of TFG for orchestrating the interview.

Not bad for a community that started a little over a month ago. I can't wait to see what the future holds for The Plan.


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  2. Congratulations! Now, I secretly wonder if he ever developed any mother's milk recipes for his family. ;) I still can't wait to hear what actually went into your brittle! It does appear pretty thick...Hmm...