Ready, Set, Jose!

By Jane Black
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 2, 2008

José Andrés is in his Bethesda kitchen whipping up a batch of patatas fritas con chistorra, a Rioja dish of spicy sausage wrapped in paper-thin, deep-fried potatoes. All the ingredients are neatly set out in front of him in swooping, modern prep dishes -- just the way you imagine a star chef would cook when he's at home.

Andrés picks up a potato and his mandoline, then stops, looks up and says, "How is my camera-to-camera move?"

A voice booms out of nowhere. It's deep, calm, seemingly all-knowing. It sounds like the voice of God, or maybe Christof, the steely director Ed Harris played in "The Truman Show."

"It's perfect," God says.

"Perfect?" Andrés scoffs. "I want to be astonishing!"

"Perfect is better than astonishing."

"I don't care. I want to be astonishing."

"Okay, José," God replies in a patient monotone. "You're astonishing."

It's mid-July, the final day of U.S. shooting for Andrés's new cooking show, "José Made in Spain," and the crew -- including more than a dozen producers, cameramen, writers and director Bruce Franchini (a.k.a. God) -- is exhausted. The 26-episode series, which debuts locally next month on public television station WETA, will take viewers on a whirlwind tour of 17 Spanish regions, showing them how to make traditional plus a few avant-garde dishes at home. The mission: to make areas such as Andalusia as familiar and beloved to American cooks as Italy's Tuscany.

Andrés, however, isn't tired at all. He jokes and teases as if it's the first day, just as if, after a 14-hour day of shooting in Spain, he's ready to party when everyone else wants to go to bed. It's that kind of energy that has propelled the 38-year-old chef to the top of the Washington culinary establishment and to media stardom in his native country. "José Made in Spain," and its companion cookbook due out in the fall, could elevate him to national prominence, making his face, and his style, as familiar as that of Rachael Ray, Emeril Lagasse and Anthony Bourdain.

At least that's the plan.

That Andrés possesses star power, and a pinch of prima donna, is obvious. He can be boyish and mischievous, kindly and avuncular or sometimes all of those at once. But whichever Andrés is on display, he radiates a passion and an energy that beckons acolytes to give whatever he's doing a try.

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