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Editor's Note: Lessons from chef Jose Andres

By Dan Beyers
Monday, October 4, 2010; 15

José Andrés is one of Washington's most celebrated chefs, with a host of successful local restaurants to his name, including Jaleo, Café Atlantico, Oyamel and minibar by josé andrés. With Andrés, creating great food seems easy. So it was somewhat refreshing to hear him paraphrase Winston Churchill last week as he dispensed some advice to business leaders at the Greater Washington Board of Trade's fall mixer.

"Success," he said, " is running from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."

I've heard this shtick several times over the years but it never fails to pull me in, because Andrés is so passionate about what he does. He seems genuinely surprised at where he finds himself now, a food maven extraordinaire, with his own PBS show and classes to teach at Harvard. He still remembers the confused looks he got back when he first introduced his tapas bar to a then-scruffy little corner of Washington. What exactly do you do at that "topless" bar? some would ask.

They don't ask anymore. His tapas concept has spread across the country.

Andrés said when he cooks, he does not do so to serve people great food. He cooks because he wants his meals to tell stories.

He's going to get another chance to tell stories when Arena Stage opens its new season this fall in its jaw-dropping new digs in Southwest Washington. Andrés is teaming up with Ridgewells to do the catering, and he promises that each night's offerings will be tied to whatever is playing on stage.

During his brief chat, Andrés encouraged us all not to lose our capacity for creativity. He told us he could come up with 50 different meals based on a single glass of water, and while I don't know if that is literally true, I like the idea of it.

It seemed fitting he was giving his talk at Arena, the embodiment of its benefactors' ability to dream big. I could not get over the $135 million makeover. This is the first theater I ever attended as a child; my parents had season tickets for years. It's probably why to this day I still have a soft spot for the business. There's something about experiencing a show live, where a performer's work cannot be covered up with clever editing and special effects.

That experience is why I also enjoy networking events and live talks by people like Andrés. You get to size up people in the flesh, and perhaps get a sense of who they really are, as distinct from the companies they represent.

-- Dan Beyers

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