After opening more than ten restaurants encompassing Spanish, Greek, Turkish and Mexican cuisines, receiving the prestigious James Beard Award and popularizing tapas for Beltway patrons, Chef Jose Andres has a new role as culinary historian.
"I'm going back to 16th, 17th, 18th-century books, because books to me are a very important way to say, 'This began here on that date and this is the first book that ever published that recipe with corn or that recipe with pawpaw," said Andres gesturing to an imaginary book in his hand.
Indeed, the celebrity chef has his own collection of rare archives, old cookbooks with traditional American recipes such as oyster cocktail and grapefruit cocktail and documents he says verify the arrival of the first cows to Plymouth in 1624 or ones describing uses for curious native fruits like the pawpaw.
"I never enjoyed cooking for the sake of cooking even though that's something I love," explained Chef Andres.
"I love cooking for the sake of understanding how people before me used to feed themselves, used to feed their families. And I think that's probably the most fun when you eat, when you really understand and know why you are eating the way you are eating today. Only this will happen if you understand how your ancestors were eating before."
As an immigrant to the US from Spain, Jose Andres has dedicated himself to introducing Americans to the variances of regional Spanish foods as well as pushing epicurean boundaries through his six-seat reservations-only restaurant, minibar. At the same time, Andres has embraced the culture of American diversity opening restaurants outside his native comfort zone and in his latest endeavor, launching a pop-up restaurant, America Eats Tavern, in conjunction with What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?, an exhibit at the National Archives, located just a block away.
Through numerous tastings, Jose Andres and his team developed a menu reflecting the exhibit, which will change as certain foods come into season. The menu maintains the integrity of a chef accustomed to serving discriminating palates, while seeking to preserve American classics. Hush puppies with caviar and oyster stew, chicken pot pie, clam chowder and fried Ipswich clams were a few of the dishes tasted by Andres just days before opening.
The restaurant's name "America Eats" comes from a WPA (Works Progress Administration) writing project designed to stimulate the economy following the Great Depression. "What's Cooking Uncle Sam" is full of posters, photos and records documenting the government's involvement in American eating habits.
At America Eats, those documents come to life.
"America Eats, I want to be that moment in history where we could argue that's American cooking," explained Andres, clearly proud of his latest undertaking.
"In this place, in America Eats, you are going to be looking into the past but you are going to see that you are also moving that past forward."
While proud of his team who carefully executed dishes from regional cuisines, the boast is also a nod to centuries of homegrown American cooking, which Andres says is too often dismissed.
"This is going to be a place where not only Americans are going to find themselves or learn more things than maybe they didn't know about but also for the foreigners who sometimes don't give true respect to American cooking," said Andres.
"And where everyone thinks that we are nothing more than a bad burger and a bad hot dog on the corner of Fifth Avenue. I love burgers and I love hot dogs. But we know America is so much more than that."
"I want you to look from today into the past," explained Andres while pointing towards a reprint of an iconic Norman Rockwell illustration "Freedom From Want" hung prominently in the restaurant's dining room.
"The one down there, Mr Rockwell, the great image of a family having Thanksgiving surrounded by a turkey, the most known American bird. Many of the photos tell you a story. I'm trying to achieve that people will be transported into the past."
"That's what these photos do," Andres said then pointing to a collection of images from the National Archives exhibit copied onto glass mosaics and hanging as a centerpiece.
"Many of these people looking at you this is what they are doing, it's almost like they were talking to you. And they are almost telling you, 'Thank you for not forgetting who we were,' and that's what we hope to achieve here."
America Eats opened on the Fourth of July in the same space as Jose Andres' restaurant, Cafe Atlantico. The Nuevo Latino fusion restaurant will move to a nearby location. Minibar remains at its current location, on the second floor while America Eats is scheduled to remain open through early January in conjunction with the exhibit at the National Archives. All profits from the restaurant will be donated to The Foundation for the National Archives.
Jeremy Moorhead contributed to this report
Read Jose Andres' Top Five School Lunch Heroes
Food says so much about where you’ve come from, where you’ve decided to go, and the lessons you’ve learned. It’s geography, politics, tradition, belief and so much more and this week, we invite you to dig in and discover the rich, ever-evolving taste of America in 2011. The week will culminate with a Secret Supper in New York City, and Eatocracy invites you to participate online starting Monday July 11th at 6:30 p.m. E.T.
So do Brazilians–ever eat picanha at a churraso in Brazil? OMG! Like a new experience.
If it weren't for us your French cuisine would be weinerschnitzel and saurkraut.
That's funny and oh so true!
I love me some Karma Cameleon weinerz!
There is good food to be had all around the world, and also some pretty terrible food. From every country. For those who are touting French cuisine...nothing says disgusting like Fois-Gras and frog innards. The other thing that makes me laugh is that people talk about the US like we only eat fast food or complete junk food...as if they don't have fast food or potato chips in every other Western country.
Je suis absolument certain que je suis. Non seulement cela, mais que la culture européenne de toutes les nations, surpasse de loin la plaisanterie qui est "la culture américaine» ...
Sure it does. So why are you even here on an American website then? France is great, as everyone knows, but so is the USA. Culture is subjective...and most of France's contribution to culture is from prior to the United States' existence. By the way, I'm from Quebec.
"Great"ness is also subjective BTW. I think the USA was great, once upon a time, perhaps between 1930 and 2000...but I believe that title now belongs to China. Also BTW, from one Canadian to another, poutine is awful. Also French cultural influence is alive and well, particularly in music – I probably listen to more French music than you. :-P
Patrick, prouvant combien les Français sont pleurnichards ...
"proving how the French are crying"
California wine is to French wine like your velvet Elvis painting is to Monet.
Nothing hammers home a concise argument quite as well as a broad generalization based on stereotype. You've done yourself proud.
Patrickk...interesting how you clearly hate the contributions that the US has made, but yet you know so much about it. Here you are posting on an American website. Etes-vous sûr que vous êtes français?
Oui, il est français et je suis donc
French wines are made to accompany food, American wines are made in a box with a handle.
Be careful touting French wine. Yes, you have some masterpieces, but we have masters of our own in California who have proven they can challenge and beat the best wind you have to offer.
I seem to recall reading somewhere that many of the vineyards of France restocked / replanted with vine roots from America when their own were decimated with a disease... I think it was sometime in the 1880's...
I'm excited about Jose Andrés' new project. He's become quite the man about town in DC lately, doing everything from posh parties to charitable events for local causes. We're lucky DC's gotten so hot lately, this was not a foodie town even 10 years ago. Hopefully this city will remain a great culinary destination in the years to come.
I think the steak is the real American food. I've traveled many countries and I haven't seen the good 22oz ribye anywhere. Some countries try to immitate it, but it's chewey and just doesn't taste as good.
You're right about American beef, but I had some killer good cuts in Argentina. Those folks know their beef, too.
Then you obviously have never eaten Canadian beef. BTW, you realize that Mexico has rejected US beef imports. What does that say about "your" beloved cow flesh? Is it the unsanitary slaughterhouse conditions that make the meat so tasty for you?
I always like to hear my steak say MOO when I cut into it,instead of some foreign language like Canadian eh ?
I seem to recall that there were at least 8 confirmed cases of cows with Mad Cows Disease in Canada since 2003, so don't go touting your cow horns just yet about your beef!
Yo probably have never tried the arrachera. Come to Mexico, we also know a little about good food.
As a European who loves good food, I have to say there's no doubt that you can eat better in the U.S. (and for much less) than you can in most countries in Europe now. Things have certainly changed over the past thirty years. I never thought I would say this but, in Europe, I think the best restaurants are now in London. The worst in France. French food now is dreadful unless you are willing to pay and arm and a leg for one of their top restaurants. The days of getting a good meal in a brasserie are over. As for American food, I believe the U.S. has created its own interesting dishes that are not found anywhere else. I have had incredible meals in San Francisco and New York that I have never seen elsewhere. This is the new American cuisine. Also, as for wine, a trip to the Napa Valley made me rethink european dominance of the wine business. Napa wines are indeed first class.
Like mac and cheese, scrapple, and cherry kool aid any day over french fries and frenchs mustard. french food sucks.
BBQ came from Africa, Pasta came from China, and Banh Mi is a product of French imperialism. I guess none of them are "authentic". They are, however, fantastic.
Who says barbecue came from Africa alone? People have been cooking meat over coals, underground, in rocks, wrapped in leaves, etc. for tens of thousands of years.
I was really just responding to what the guy above said.
"BBQ, America's only authentic cuisine, develped by people from Africa."
Hi Diddley Ho Neighbor!
Hi Diddley Ho to you as well, Neighbor! LOL!
Collard Greens, yams, corn, turkey, salmon, etc.. These are all american. The french may have their wines but we have our beef, take a bite into a grass fed steak and you'll take that frois gras and flush it. We are a melting pot, we combine and mix and match, remember the original americans were all killed off by the pale faces.
Tomatoes, potatoes and peppers are also from the Americas. Where would European cuisine be without them?
Not since the last DNC have I seen a bigger collection of dicktards all in one place.
And we certainly would not be complete without you.
There is immediate seating in the stfu lounge. I suggest you retire to it immediately.
Yes, we have some lovely and intoxicating Cristy Lane playing in the Lounge. JOIN US!
American Cuisine at its finest, fire roasted bison, elk on a stick, smoked wild turkey, fresh wild trout, etc, etc, etc
BBQ, America's only authentic cuisine, develped by people from Africa.
If BBQ is the only thing you can think of as authentic American cuisine then you are either ignorant of American cuisine or truly deprived of it.
"American Cuisine" is an oxymoron (look it up)
WRONG. BBQ came from the Americas. The word "Barbacoa" is Arawak and is from the Caribbean. It predates European AND African settlers. Many of the techniques and spices used on the food are also unique to the west.
Folks love to hate on American food, but our food is like our music. It's usually an amalgamation of influences fused into one great product. In music, think Jazz. We took beats and rhythms from Africa and used a bunch of under utilized European instruments to make it happen (seriously, look up the history of the "saxophone", which was an ugly and hated instrument before we "ugly Americans" made it sexy). in food, think Pizza: Pizza's roots come from China and Italy, but Pizza as we all know it is American. And everyone loves Pizza.
Same thing with Hamburgers. They're named after HAMBURG, Germany. Yet they're considered the quintessential American food. Why? Because of our unique spin. And if I might add, that unique spin has the entire world enthralled.
BTW, I live in DC, never go to Wal-Mart, have traveled extensively throughout the world and have read more than a few books on history. Apparently, the French commenters have not. If they did, they'd know that the origins of "French cuisine" are actually Italian.
Yeah yeah yeah, you guys lived through 8 years of Bush's Presidency and assume we are all uncultured cowboys and rednecks in the US. You'd think witnessing a few years worth of Obama and some international goodwill would make folks a bit less ignorant. I certainly don't assume that all French people are a bunch of bloated bald headed adulterers who sleep with hotel maids just because the ex-head of the IMF is a Frenchman, so don't assume the worst of America (and Americans) without getting your facts straight.
While I appreciate the fine demonstration of your intellectual prowess, the latter part of your assault on the French is a little thin. The roots of French cuisine are irrelevant because French cuisine has also been adapted, similar to bar-b-que, pizza, and the hamburger as you so eloquently educated us about. The source was only the inspiration.
BTW, I also live in DC and have only purchased a fishing rod from Walmart. Not all people from DC are arrogant and condescending in a desparate attempt to increase the size of their e-p3nis.
Obama is a liberal stooge, but let's not get all political on a food blog...
America's "culinary history" can be summed up in one word: Swill.
If you are not in Europe, you are not eating.
I completey concur. French chefs and French wine are distinguished and celebrated around the world. American chefs and wine makers compare to fried chicken and fruit punch.
Then explain why France is the second-biggest market in the world for McDonald's? Hmmm... There is plenty good and bad food to go around in every country. Maybe you fellows need to open your minds a bit, and pull your palates out of the sand.
The difference is we French eat our burgers in moderation, paired with fine French wines while you Americans super size your ridiculous combo meals and imbibe soda made of corn syrup. My culinary palate does just fine, thank you very much.
Have you ever tried when a french chef prepares troll?
I ate French food once. I threw up afterwards.
Well I have to agree with you. America has commodified everything to the point of banality. Although there are standouts such as Chef Andres (I have eaten at his restaurants – prefer Jaleo), they are the exception because the average American does not appreciate good food only good lethal doses of high fructose corn syrup. That goes for candy and chocolate as well...Americans have never experienced good sweets. Unless you're eating America's Norman Love or Bernard Callebaut at $1/chocolate, Americans have no idea what good is. Hint: It ain't a Hershey bar and soda pop after a meal of greasy fried chicken and tater salad with a dollop of creme fraiche.
I love corndogs and I've got all my teeth. Them red hot dogs in Martinsville VA ain't bad either.
And let me guess, you live in a trailer, married your cousin and are 350+ lbs, right?
How is WalMart stocked these days?
Walmart and Dollar General are both stocked up and ready to sell to all our customers! So come on down!
This kind of mentality is exactly what the chef is trying to soften. He even mentions it in the video.
Patrick,have you ever eaten food in Holland or Belgium? Yuck
Excuse me! I lived in Holland for 3 years and traveled extensively to Belgium Both places have great food if you know what to order. There are many foods I miss from both places: stoofvlees met fritten, appelgebak, stompot, erwten soep, and although it is not Dutch, Holland has the best Indonesian rijsttafel in the world (yes better than Indonesia). Belgium has outstanding beers–deKonink from Antwerp is to die for, chocolate truffles, and good hearty peasant dishes for cold evenings. What the heck were you eating?
The French had plenty of time to perfect cooking, what with all their surrendering and losing wars and whatnot.
I have something to put in your mouth, d i c k head.....
Isn't it funny how you mention the cuisine of Europe and not that of the country in which you reside. Are overcooked peas and meat pies a staple where you live? Well, none of us would have you over for dinner anyhow. Your manners are appalling.
Come on... Next time just post "I'm an ignorant a$$" and save us the time. Don't get me wrong, there are some phenomenal culinary traditions in Europe (I am an American living in Europe) . But to discount some of the most accomplished chefs in the world that are, in fact, American, is plainly ignorant. So, that being said... You sir, are an ignorant a$$.
A lot of "American" food is swill–if it can be served through a car window it is not food. Europe does not have a corner on the good food market though–Asia has some pretty amazing food too. Also some countries in South America have great foods.
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