If you’re even vaguely into watching people cook on TV, there’s a very good chance you’ve seen Spanish chef José Andrés do his thing. The celebrated restaurateur’s jovial nature and outsize personality make him incredibly watchable, a fact that became clear in the United States during his years as host of PBS’ Made in Spain.
A subset of viewers, however, more recently came to know the James Beard Award winner/driving force behind Spanish cuisine in America as that goofy guy on TikTok who danced in the kitchen with his young adult daughters during the early months of the pandemic.
“We were cooking together, and I would post the videos,” Andrés tells TVLine. The segments were funny, wine-influenced and often ended with his exuberance erupting into singing and dancing. “It became so popular online that I told my daughters, ‘Are you up to doing a show?’ And they were like, ‘OK, maybe, yes.”
The result — José Andrés and Family in Spain — begins streaming today on Discovery+. The six-episode docuseries follows the chef and his children Carlota, Inés and Lucia as they travel his native country, sampling local cuisine and engaging in inherently Spanish traditions. (The sisters Andrés were born in America; José Andrés and his wife, Patricia, both hail from Spain and became American citizens in 2013.)
The gorgeously shot show follows the members of the Andres family as they spotlight Spain’s legendary gastronomy: milking goats for cheese in Asturias, stirring large pans of paella in Valencia and dipping churros in thick chocolate in central Madrid.
In mid-December, we chatted with the chef — who also is founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit that provides warm meals in areas of great turmoil, such as Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria or the Ukraine —as he sat in Spanish Diner, part of his Mercado Little Spain in New York. Read on for his thoughts, including those on the respectability of drinking sparkling wine at breakfast.
TVLINE | What misconceptions do you think Americans have about Spanish food in general?
Listen, it’s not misconceptions… What you realize is the world is such a big place that we don’t spend enough time researching what you do not see. [For example,] pawpaws, the most American food that America doesn’t know it exists. My daughters were the ones that taught me about the paw-paws in the Billy Goat Trail in the Potomac River. My daughters taught me about pawpaws, a fruit they didn’t even knew existed.
Now, let’s go to Spain. If America doesn’t know about their own traditions, you think every Spaniard knows about every tradition going on in Spain? This doesn’t happen either. The message is we all need to be open. We all need to be discovered. We all need to be explorers…
We do this show because we all need to do more shows, not only for Spain, but for every part of the world, to bring the world closer together. There are the longer tables, not higher walls — and at the end those misconceptions, they just disappear. Why? Because knowledge is power, and to show the ideas in a fun way is educational, but you don’t think anybody is teaching you anything, because you are learning as you walk, as you drive, as you open the door of every restaurant or every cheese market. That’s what life should always be about.
TVLINE | I’ll tell you what I learned from your show, when you’re in Mercado de la Boqueria in Barcelona: I learned that cava — Spanish sparkling wine — for breakfast is acceptable.
[Laughs] Cava for breakfast is acceptable… But for me, being there in that market, I used to go to the market with my dad when I was very young, and that was an expensive market. I remember my dad going to that market, La Boqueria, bought kiwis. I remember that moment that my father spent money on buying two kiwis! Two kiwis, because it was too expensive to buy more! And that moment of me eating the kiwi with my father is still is something I remember.
TVLINE | I love that.
So, you know, for me to be in that market and taking my daughters to eat at place, a breakfast place that when I was young I couldn’t afford? That man [Juanito Bayen, owner of Pinotxo Bar in La Boqueria, whom we meet in Episode 1], if I need to, that legend would buy my breakfast because he knows sometimes I didn’t have enough money. But he wouldn’t [just] buy my breakfast. I would order one coffee, and that’s it, and a little piece of tomato bread, and he would put me a little tapita or two extra because he knows, he knew how much I loved to eat.
For me, 20, 30, 40 years later to be bringing my daughters to that same market where my father also brought me, it’s kind of special. It’s unique. [Laughs] And yeah, in these places you learn that you can be drinking a sparkling cava, Catalan cava at 7, 8 o’clock in the morning.
TVLINE | In your opinion, what’s the least appreciated tapa, and what’s the most overrated tapa?
Well, let me tell you this way: There is not an overrated tapa, because all the tapas are amazing. Underrated is the one you don’t know. There are so many tapas. Obviously, in Spain is more than tapas, but tapas has become an amazing vehicle to export the culture of Spanish food. Like you could argue that Lebanon or Greece or Turkey is more than mezze. But that’s a great way of celebration. Tapas, what it is at the end, is: Why to eat one dish when you can eat 20? Why to eat in one place when you can go to 10? It’s this moment that more is more, through tiny portions.
So, what I can tell you is that my most amazing tapa is croquetas. My mother used to make these for me and my brothers when we were young. Croquetas was useful for at the end of the month when you had no more money, and every leftover will go into the bechamel that will be in the croquetas that will be rolled in the bread crumbs of the old bread that my mother will grind in the coffee grinder. That’s why my coffee in my house was always kind of thick, because they never cleaned it out of the bread crumbs and the coffee would thicken on its own. Magic! [Laughs]
Those croquetas, I still remember my brothers and I eating them out of the tray at night, making sounds and opening the refrigerator. [Mimes eating them] and that bechamel before my mother rolled them the day after is one of the biggest things. Actually, I’m coming up with new visions as I’m speaking to you. I’m going to serve the croquetas before rolling them, and you can eat them with a spoon. S–t, that will be amazing!
TVLINE | That’s so good.
But that’s a good question! I gave you these very long answers because I didn’t have the smarter answer.
But every tapa — I mean, there’s so many dishes in Spain. The more I know about Spain, the more I know I know nothing. Everybody [thinks I’m] an expert, and I look at myself in the mirror and I’m like, me, an expert?! Every time I go somewhere it’s like I learn there 10 new things. Knowledge makes you aware of the things you don’t know.