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Posted at 04:28 PM ET, 02/14/2012

Chef Jose Andres on ‘the most amazing business in the world’


Chef Jose' Andres at Washington Post LIVE event on Tuesday. (Jeffrey MacMillan)

A potato chip made of air.

When it comes to the potato, world-renowned chef Jose Andres, says everything has been done before, including turning one of America’s favorite snacks into sort of a foamed potato chip. Indeed, converting the physical state of the potato chip is among Andres’s many technological accomplishments in the kitchen.

"We did turn them into air,” said Andres, a endless source of innovation in the culinary arts. “But people didn't get it."

Andres doesn’t seem to care much that people get it, so long as they stay with him for the entirety of the ride. The good business leaders, according to Andres, make sure everyone is “tagging along” with what they do. Instead of a straight line, zigzag every once in a while, he recommends. Bring people along.

And sometimes the ride involves departing from the tried and true. Like, for example, the dining table.

"I'm getting tired of a flat table," said Andres, citing the Romans’ more free-form dining style as more interesting than that of modern diners. "We are becoming too obvious.”

Andres is the creator of Jaleo, Minibar, Zaytinya and the Bazaar, among other eating establishments. He is also the culinary mind behind America Eats Tavern — a restaurant born of the partnership between Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup and the Foundation for the National Archives. At America Eats, the menu tells the history of the United States: an opportunity for an artist who can neither sing nor act nor paint to pay tribute to America.


Croquetas pollo served in Camper shoes imported from Spain at Jaleo, a restaurant inside the Cosmopolitan hotel complex in Las Vegas created by chef Jose Andres. (Marlene Karas for The Washington Post)
Andres has gone from the ivory tower to Washington’s sidewalks. He has taught at Harvard, and will be starting a food truck called Pepe in the District. During his appearance at the Washington Post Live panel discussion Tuesday at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium downtown, Andres said that the food truck was an untapped resource for job creation and entrepreneurship in the culinary industry.

But his innovations have not clearly sailed past the more practical eyes of health inspectors or the rigidity of cultural roadblocks. For example, Jaleo will be getting crystal plates in the near future that are shaped like shoes — a development that came out of the issue health inspectors took with his using real (albeit clean and lined) shoes as the vessel for a meal. The clear shoe passes the health code while satisfying his creative vision.

"That tells you how unbelievably simple things can be," said Andres. But he acknowledged that, while a shoe on the table in America is whimsical, in other parts of the world, it could be seen as the most vile of insults.

And sometimes the problem is not that there are barriers to innovation in the food business, but the lack thereof.

Andres calls the ability of food manufacturers to create ingestible products that could last for years “brilliant,” but also an example of innovation that had gone too far.


Beams over the bar area have been painted to approximate the stripes of the U.S. flag at America Eats Tavern, a pop-up restaurant by Jose Andres that complements a major food exhibition at the National Archives in Washington. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
"This is when innovation has to be managed," said the chef.

The world’s biggest challenge over the 21st century, according to Andres, is how to handle having food always within our reach, while increasing fruits, vegetables, grains and higher-quality meats (but less meat, in general) in our daily diets.

The food business, according Andres, has nearly infinite potential — a somewhat predictable view from the man who has successfully caramelized olive oil. But it is a view that could set on a different course many who see food as merely a means to an end.

According to Andres, the food industry, for those who choose to look at it more broadly as they pursue the craft, is one that will let practitioners touch every angle of society and fundamentally change the course of humanity, from the environment to obesity.

"The business of feeding people,” said Andres, “is the most amazing business in the world."

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By  |  04:28 PM ET, 02/14/2012

Categories:  Entrepreneurship, Health, The Arts

 
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