Jose Andres calls himself a pilgrim from Spain - a chef who arrived in the United States 20 years ago with just $50 in his pocket and a set of cooking knives. But these days it's hard to call him anything less than an amazing American success story. As we first reported in May, he was GQ magazine's chef of the year, runs restaurants on both coasts and has won most every culinary award America has to offer.
Andres' personality is enormous, as are his plans to charm Americas into changing their eating habits. But it's his avant-garde approach to cooking that has really made him famous, and has his diners rethinking how much fun food can be.
Full Segment: Chef Jose Andres
Web Extra: Finding Nemo in a Gin & Tonic
Web Extra: There's a Fish Under All That Salt
Web Extra: Just Add Liquid Nitrogen
Web Extra: A Recipe for Rehabilitation
Link: D.C. Central Kitchen
"Eating has to be fun, has to be a social event, but where you have fun that you are relaxed. But at the same time that you are relaxed, doesn't mean that you cannot be putting a lot of thought behind what eating, what the food means to you," Andres told correspondent Anderson Cooper.
"Minibar is a window into creativity, that's all," Andres added, laughing.
Jose Andres' "minibar" is a kind of culinary laboratory in Washington D.C. where Cooper was lucky enough to skip a month-long waiting list for one of just six seats.
He got the first course and the first surprise: a temperature layered cocktail.
"This is what we call the drink by the chef," Andres explained. "A cocktail can be made by the bartender. But the cocktail also can be made by the chef."
"It's great. It's hot but it's cold. There's cold underneath it," Cooper observed.
"Already your taste buds are already being excited because they are asking themselves, 'What's happening here?'" Andres said.
What's happening here is "molecular gastronomy" - a cooking technique that embraces science and technology. Andres says his 30-course menu is as much about the brain and the eye as the tongue and stomach.
Listen to his explanation of "the air" floating on top of caviar brioche: "It's like if you are walking in Fifth Avenue and you could open your mouth and right there in the middle of Fifth Avenue you would have that flavor in your mouth, that's what air is all about."
Then there was what appeared to be a miniature ice cream cone, with salmon roe "bubbling" out.
"Bagel and lox. Inside has cream cheese and instead of the smoke salmon has salmon roe," Andres explained.
Dishes are a bite or two with some complicated combinations. For example, Cooper wondered why there was cotton candy wrapped around seafood.
"Cotton candy is the most amazing form of caramelization ever invented by man. You're gonna love it. It's going to be sweet and the smokiness of the eel," Andres explained.
Andres dishes are cutting edge, so what he thinks about ingredients may surprise you.
"I believe the future is vegetables and fruits. They are so much more sexier than a piece of chicken," Andres said.
"You find vegetables and fruits sexy?" Cooper asked.
"Unbelievably sexy," Andres replied, laughing. "Come on, think about it for a second, okay? Let's compare a chicken breast, the best chicken breast from the best farm with a beautiful pineapple. Cut the pineapple, already the aromas are inundating the entire kitchen. Acidity. Sour after notes, touches of passion fruit."
"All right. You're makin' me excited," Cooper said.
The chef told Cooper he thinks meat is overrated. "Well, meat to me, it's slightly boring. Hold on, I love meat too but only once in a while. You get a piece of meat and you put it in your mouth, you chew, the first five seconds, all the juices flow around your mouth, they're gone, and then you are 20 more seconds chewing something that is tasteless at this point. Something like this doesn't happen with a pineapple, an asparagus, or a green pea," he explained.