The Best Meal Famed Chef José Andrés Has Ever Eaten Was A Humble Potato

Photo: Courtesy of The Cove at Atlantis Paradise Island.
José Andrés has a lot on his plate. The chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup and founder of World Central Kitchen oversees 32 restaurants, has written multiple cookbooks, and was named one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People” in April for his inspiring humanitarian work in Puerto Rico.
Also back in April, he somehow found time to open a new restaurant in the Bahamas. The latest addition to his culinary empire is a new outpost of a pre-existing concept located in Washington D.C. — Fish by José Andrés. We recently caught up with chef Andrés at his newly-opened seafood spot — part of The Cove on Paradise Island — to discuss conceptualizing a menu, his humanitarian work, and how a humble potato ranks as one of the best meals he’s ever eaten.
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Supporting The Coral Reef
One of the signature dishes at Fish is a whole fried lionfish, which is expertly presented for maximum Instagrammability. If you’ve never had lionfish before, that’s because the venomous fish isn't a particularly trendy, or common, dish. Andrés's fried preparation is delicious — rendering juicy, flaky fillets — but the real reason the creature found its way onto the menu has more to do with the fact that lionfish are killing off the local fish population and harming the coral reef. “This is an invasive species that needs to be controlled.” Andrés told Refinery29. “By serving lionfish, we can connect with the local coral reef; we can help the local coral reef to be healthy and the local fish population to be healthy.”
Conceptualizing A New Menu
While chef Andrés is no stranger to opening new restaurants, he explains that it’s still a long process. “Start by knowing the place. We came up with a very clear idea that we were going to open a fish restaurant: You let yourself follow that path. What dishes do we have from our repertoire that are easily replicated here? Which ones need to be created? You hope that people don’t only stay in the resort and that they go out and try the local food, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. You want the food to give people a glimpse of the cooking of the place they are in"
Photo: Courtesy of The Cove at Atlantis Paradise Island.
On Becoming A Humanitarian
"It’s been more than 25 years in the making. Sometimes people are surprised by how long I’ve been doing this work. But we don’t go writing press releases. Now people use social media to bring awareness, but sometimes it’s on the edge of bringing awareness and you taking the [credit]. Other people [feed those in need] every day and nobody writes about it.
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All I know is that the amazing group of people in Puerto Rico came together in a very cohesive group. Great chefs came together to feed the people. Every time someone asked us for a plate of food, we never told them no. That was a problem and a blessing: The problem was like holy shit, this is growing. The blessing was that it was our destiny."
Advice For Those Inspired By His Work
"Just make sure you don’t become an annoyance to others providing help. You have to slowly prepare yourself. For me, I watched, I learned, I became a helping hand to others, to the people, to organizations. I was able to put all of that know-how into a massive moment. It didn’t happen overnight. John Steinbeck said it first, 'Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there.'"
The Best Meal He's Ever Eaten
"I’ve eaten so many amazing meals. But, one time we were having these potatoes that we planted. It was September or October when we picked them. That night we boiled them with a bit of water and salt. And [we ate them] right there in a napkin warm, wrinkled because of the salt. I bought very good butter from the farmer’s market and we put some of the butter inside those potatoes. There was probably 5-10 minutes of silence at the table, which is rare at my house. To this day, my wife and I always talk about what happened to those potatoes. Because they were really amazing. I think taking the potatoes out of the dirt and cooking them five minutes later, that was very good. I don’t know if it was the best I’ve ever eaten, but definitely one that we still remember. I had caviar in the refrigerator, but we didn’t even use it. Sometimes you don’t need the uni that I adore, the caviar that I love, the foie, the truffles; Sometimes a humble potato can be amazing."
Travel and accommodations for the author were provided by The Cove on Paradise Island for the purpose of writing this story.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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