I met José Andrés in the ‘90s at Jaleo; who knows how. I was traveling to D.C. with some regularity to track interesting restaurants for The New York Times. I had a couple of good guides: the most lovable of whom was the late Michel Richard who — though he ran a creative, interesting, well-known restaurant — liked to eat in regular places.
Jaleo was in between: a really good Spanish place at a time just before Spanish food exploded internationally. (El Bulli had been up and running for a while, but Ferran Adria was not an international sensation, though by then he was José’s mentor and friend.) I knew Spanish food, both from my travels and from my friend Ignacio Blanco’s restaurants in Connecticut and New York (now called Ibiza, in Danbury and Chappaqua), and Jaleo was clearly the real deal.
José and I became friends: We shot TV together in Washington, in San Sebastian, in Catalonia, and probably elsewhere. He was — is, as far as I know — an incredible cook. His hake pil-pil, which he made for me at Arzak, was miraculous. (It’s an astonishing dish, when it works, and the fish juices emulsify with the olive oil. Not everyone can make it work.)
Fast-forward to the present: José is a superstar, deservedly, and not only for his cooking or restaurateur-ing but for taking those platforms and doing solid work in the realm of politics, humanitarianism, and food-system reform.
I used José’s new cookbook, Vegetables Unleashed (written with my old friend Matt Goulding) as an excuse to catch up with him:
MB: So. How do you like your own book?
JA: The whole thing was fun, and Matt and I, who were friends, became brothers. Basically: Amazing, a lot of the kinds of things we cook at home. The Washington Post trashed the Composted Potatoes recipe, which made the book more popular; we passed Michelle Obama on Amazon. It’s been well-received, but I wish I had written it when I was 20.