Get to know this acclaimed chef, innovator and teacher - he was just recently named the Dean of Spanish Studies at the International Culinary Center.
1. How did you first become interested in a cooking career?
I’ve been interested in cooking my whole life. I don’t think you wake up one day and just become interested in cooking. It’s a process. I experienced cooking at home in Spain at the highest level. My mother and father would go shopping at the markets every other day to get the freshest fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish. I always lived near and around farmers and that helped me to create a relationship with food. My father would cook on Sundays for friends and it was amazing to see that. I fell in love with cooking at a very young age. Cooking has always in my heart and I guess my destiny has always been to be a cook.
2. You are often credited with bringing the ‘small plates’ dining concept to the US. What was your inspiration behind this?
I was not the only one to bring Spanish cooking to the US and I wasn’t the first one to introduce the word tapas. You could argue that tapas first came to the U.S. over 500 years ago with the arrival of the Spanish to Florida. But the truth is that I think the secret to the success of Jaleo and the success of tapas in America was that what we did was very different. We opened a traditional Spanish restaurant, which gave you the opportunity to order over 50-60 different tapas. Imagine a table of 4 people with 16 tapas on the table; it’s like a rainbow of flavors, dishes, and textures. It’s the coolest way to eat. My inspiration came from going to bar to bar in the towns of Spain especially in the south and in Andalusia where tapas come from and where I did my military service. When I started my career in America, I came from doing avant-garde food in high-end restaurants in Spain and for me this was the opportunity to do an informal tasting menu experience that was fun and emphasized sharing and the Spanish way of eating.
3. Considering your background in tapas you were a great mentor for as the teams attempted to create ‘Perfect Courses’. Do you have any general suggestions for contestants and home cooks who are trying to create a dinner menu?
Tapas are great to make at home and especially when you have people over for dinner. It’s informal, easy and most importantly it’s fun and really that’s the most important thing to remember when you are planning a dinner menu. Always use the highest-quality ingredients with whatever you do. This really allows your dishes to stand out.
4. What’s the best cooking advice you’ve ever received? The best you’ve ever given?
The best cooking advice I’ve ever received was make sure you learn the classics; read about the classics and master the classics. It’s the only way you can keep moving forward to allow you to push further and create something new. The best advice I’ve ever given is to not be afraid of failure because success can always be around the corner. It was Winston Churchill who said, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” These are words I live by.
5. Teaching has played a substantial role in your career – as the Chairman of D.C. Central Kitchen, as the host of your PBS series Made in Spain, and of course as a chef in your kitchens. What were some of the challenges you encountered as a mentor and teacher on The Taste?
Thank you for telling me I was a great mentor. You can only be a mentor if you’re accepted as a mentor and the student really wants to learn. If not, it can difficult and when you’re in a competition people are focused on winning. But I think everyone who competed was very talented and did their best and really when you are on a show like this, this is what you need to do. Push yourself and make sure you are giving it all you have.
6. What was your favorite moment while filming the finale episode?
My favorite moment or really the best part of doing the show was spending quality time with my great friend Anthony Bourdain. I think very highly of him. He is a great voice, an amazing speaker and he is even a good listener! It’s always great to spend time with him and we really had an amazing time filming The Taste.
7. If the roles were reversed & you were competing on this show, which three plates would you make for your meal?
Why compete? Lets just get together and make an amazing meal and open a bottle of wine!