José Andrés, a former sailor in the Spanish navy and an eternal optimist, oversees an empire of 27 restaurants, including 10 in Washington, D.C. He invited “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Alex Wagner to Jaleo -- where he began his takeover of the Washington dining scene 24 years ago.
On the menu for Andrés’ New Year’s celebration? Traditional tapas: lobster salad in a gazpacho-style dressing, a Norwegian shellfish cigala, beloved in his home country of Spain, and ibérico ham with something extra extraordinary.
“So we get egg yolks and we drop the egg yolks into the semi under boiling syrup, water and sugar. And at the end, you get these threads like hair,” Andrés said.
“Candied egg yolk?” Wagner asked.
“It’s candied egg yolk.” Andrés said. “Me, I love this. It’s such a crazy mix.”
Like this meal, Andrés’ cuisine is steeped in tradition, but he’s become famous for his experimentation. His formative years were spent working for the revolutionary chef Ferran Adrià at elBulli in northeastern Spain. Andrés immigrated to America in 1991, eventually settling in the nation’s capital.
“You have a restaurant on that corner, a restaurant right there, a restaurant right here. Restaurants can define a neighborhood. What was this place like before you got here?” Wagner asked.
“This entire area was -- almost nothing happening. Four p.m., we go dark. No cars. No people in the streets,” Andrés said.
Over nearly two and a half decades, Andrés helped turn the District into a dining capital. Whether it’s at his two-Michelin-star restaurant Minibar, his veggie-focused fast casual chain Beefsteak or at kitchens for the less fortunate, his passion for food and life is unmistakable.
“Restaurants can become agents of change, and I love that as chefs and restaurant people, we do that part in America to keep moving America forward,” Andrés said.
But in a city where everything is political, even restauranteurs can get caught in the crossfire. Andrés, who became an American citizen three years ago, made headlines when he backed out of opening a restaurant in Washington’s new Trump International Hotel over candidate Donald Trump’s remarks about Mexican immigrants.
“There’s not much I can say about that because it’s still going, but what I can tell you is that I always dream about opening a restaurant there,” Andrés said.
The two men are currently in a legal standoff.
“We always need to be celebrating the success of others. Unfortunately for me, it was not the right environment to open a restaurant, for personal reasons. But at the end, I always wish everybody the best because when others do well, you do well, the community does well,” Andrés said.
Andrés still thinks food can bring all parties to the table.
“I’ve seen Democrats. I’ve seen Republicans. I’ve been able to feed all of them. I’ve been able to feed different administrations. But as a restauranteur, I’m going to keep doing what I do. Restaurants are a meeting place, a meeting place of people with different ideologies, different backgrounds, different social status,” Andrés said. “It’s a place that wants you sharing a plate of food. Even if you’re not in the same table, but being in the same place, it’s an amazing, unique way of bringing people together.”
In that spirit, Andrés introduced us to the unique way Spaniards toast the new year: with cava, their sparkling wine, and a dozen grapes.
“People of America, happy new year! People of America, happy new year!” Andrés said.
Watch the video above to see Andrés and Wagner count down to 2017 with 12 grapes.