'Nightline' Platelist: José Andrés' Spanish Cuisine

Award-winning Spanish chef says cooking is in his DNA.

ByABC News
July 28, 2008, 3:21 PM

Aug. 11, 2008— -- As a child growing up in a little town called Mieres in northern Spain, José Andrés used to beg his father to let him cook alongside him. But each time, his father would tell him no and ask him to tend to the fire, instead.

One day, after his father had made paella, he told his son that maintaining the fire was the most important task of all.

"Don't you see it -- if you control the fire, one day you will be a cook," his father said.

Today, Andrés, 39, says this was the most important lesson about cooking that he learned from his family.

His father's advice turned out to be a powerful metaphor for Andrés' passion for cooking, and he has done well, tending that kind of fire, building a restaurant empire in the Washington, D.C., area and a loyal audience on his PBS cooking show, "José Made in Spain."

Ever since he was young, Andrés knew all he wanted to do was cook.

"I always felt great around food, around aromas. One of the best things to me is when I am having a day off and I am cooking for friends or family, and sometimes cooking like crazy, and going to the market and all day cooking. And at the end of the day, I will complain, 'Why am I cooking again for everyone?' So, that is why I know that cooking is something that this is too much in my body and in my DNA that I cannot get away from it."

Andrés arrived in America when he was 21 after serving in Spain's navy.

"I was very young, in love with anything that sounded American," he said.

He began cooking traditional Spanish dishes, introducing them to the American palate slowly. It was an experience that gave him purpose in life, but at the expense of pursuing more avant-garde dishes. Now, he says he is finally able to do both, and "the wait has been worth it."

Four restaurants later, while others might have rested on their laurels, Andrés was not yet content. He says he only recently fulfilled his "ultimate dream": a restaurant that doesn't turn a profit. The six-seat Minibar, located on the second floor of Andrés' Nuevo Latino-style restaurant, Café Atlantico, provides a small number of patrons with critically acclaimed avant-garde Spanish food.

To Andrés, "perfection cannot be something that can be achieved by profits. It is something that can only be achieved by devotion and giving your best, and sometimes it is spending more money than what you are able to charge for."

"Minibar," he continued, "is not a restaurant where you exchange food for money. It is a place where you only exchange dreams and creativity, by only getting the attention of someone during two, three hours every day."