For the soft opening of The Bazaar on November 17th, I had dinner with Kevin of kevineats.com, Ryan of tangmeister.com, and three of their friends. On that night, we set out to try each of the 63 dishes on the menu. We got as far as 48 before we threw in the towel...to be fair, we had two of each dish up to about dish 30.
As soon as he got home, Kevin went about composing his blog entry, finishing around 7 or 8 the next morning. In the blog, which you can read at http://www.kevineats.com/2008/11/bazaar-los-angeles-ca.htm he included pictures of every dish we tried.
Interestingly, Kevin received an email from Chef Jose Andres, inviting him to get together to talk about "creativity and cooking". Apparently, Chef Andres got wind of Kevin's blog and wanted to meet him.
Kevin asked if I was interested, and so we met up with Chef Andres last night at 8:30 pm at The Bazaar. Going into the evening, I wasn't sure what to expect. Was Chef Andres going to chastise us, or Kevin, for writing this blog? Was he going to have an attorney present to personally present Kevin with a cease and desist order, since he took pictures even after we were told we were not allowed to?
On the contrary, we were treated like family. I arrived an hour early, so I tried a couple of nitrogen caipirinhas. It's the traditional caipirinha drink mixed with liquid nitrogen, forming a sorbet-like consistency, and topped with edible flowers and herbs. The consistency was creamy, the drink a big winner. On my second, Chef Andres stopped by to say hi. He warmly welcomed me and we made small talk. I let him know Kevin and the rest of the party were on the way. Once everyone arrived, Jose sat with us in Bar Centro and invited each of us to order a drink. I got a third nitrogen Caipirinha, and thus the evening began.
While scooping up my 'drink', Jose asked what description came to my mind regarding the drink. "...and don't say molecular gastronomy, or I'll throw you out of the restaurant", he jested. He explained that he simply wanted a certain consistency, and since the drink was almost pure alcohol, this was the only way to freeze it. He then segued into discussion regarding his cooking. He essentially asserted that his cooking was based on his experiences growing up, when eating at home was a necessity. Although I'm rather certain his family dinners growing up didn't include liquid olives and nitrogen caipirinhas, I got his point. His menu, although extensive, was an acknowledgement of his past and things new. Every dish was carefully thought out and executed to his liking.
After an hour or so, we moved over to Rojo, where Jose ordered a bunch of stuff, and a gorgeous white wine. He also directed his head sommelier to decant the '95 Vega Sicilia that Brian and Jan brought. Throughout the rest of evening, Jose was greeted by friends. On two or three occasions, dishes were brought for his opinion. He explained that they constantly discussed dishes, always perfecting them. He went on about the importance of doing things right, whether it be cooking or writing.
Among the items ordered were some of the dishes that Kevin did not appreciate. As we tasted each one, he gave us either a brief history or explanation of the dish. I'm not sure what it was, but the dishes such as the Japanese eggplant and the salt cod fritters tasted much better the second time around. It could have been that we were too full that first night, or it could have been that the kitchen staff was on point for us, since the chef was sitting at our table.
Overall, Jose sat with us for close to three hours. He told many stories. He expressed the importance of seeing things not only from your own perspective, but from many. He gave us some suggested reading so that we could learn more about what we're writing about. He spoke fondly and often of his wife and kids, and of his responsibilities to each and every one of his staff.
Although many lessons were taught and learned, the most intriguing thing was Jose's passion for life, which poured over into his cooking. He got a bit emotional at times, speaking of certain things. He was even a bit patriarchal at other times, extolling the importance of not necessarily liking or not liking something, but looking at it from different perspectives for a better understanding. As busy as he is(he had just landed a few hours before), he took the time to explore the minds of people who took time to write about food. He wanted to understand and be understood. Never pretentious and always sincere and honest, he was a delight. He ended by thanking us for coming and by telling me that I would have to cook for him, so that he could critique me. I told him I would be more than happy to, but only if he was in for a good laugh. He said he'd give me a year, but we'll see if I ever get the courage to do that.
I'm not sure if we changed our opinions on his cuisine that much, but the experience really made me think about what we write. Jose, who really could have a God Complex at this stage in his career, was welcoming and warm and somewhat open to criticism. He showed a very human side that is sometimes forgotten when we criticize. He showed a great passion, telling us that he poured three years of his life into The Bazaar. Most of all, he showed that he cared about what his diners thought. Breaking bread with us for three hours proved that.