Spanish-born chef José Andrés has become somewhat of a national treasure on the gastronomic food scene. The gregarious and tireless chef owns restaurants in Washington, DC, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, South Beach, Philadelphia, Puerto Rico, and Mexico City. From The Bazaar by José Andrés to Jaleo, Barmini, Beefsteak, and China Poblano, Andrés has brought a unique twist on everything from small plates to traditional Spanish cuisine while infusing just the right balance of gastronomic science, ingenious pairings, and, above all, the best ingredients.
Voted by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world in 2012, Andrés is also a chair of the advisory board for LA Kitchen—an organization that works to reduce food waste, provide job training, and increase access to nutritious food. In September 2016, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal.
Some of the chef’s iconic signature dishes and ingredients revolve around a tomato, from his to pa’amb tomaquet to pisto stew, his use of tomato sofrito in sautéed shrimp, and the not-your-everyday Caprese. Here, Andrés talks tomatoes with the World Tomato Society.
World Tomato Society: What is your favorite use for a tomato?
José Andrés: I have so many favorites! But one, the most simple, is to cut a thick slice of a perfectly ripe heirloom tomato, then drizzle it with some very good olive oil (Spanish, of course!), and sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on top. The simplicity of these ingredients together is incredible.
WTS: What are some of your favorite tomato pairings?
JA: Tomatoes go well with many different flavors. I think that cheeses, especially hard, nutty goat cheeses like Garrotxa, are perfect with the sweet acidity of tomatoes. I also really love a preparation that Ferran Adrià [the godfather of molecular gastronomy and founder of three-star Michelin eatery elBulli in Spain] used to make, which we now do at my restaurant Jaleo, pairing the flesh of tomatoes with cool, sweet watermelon—it is really a brilliant dish. Tomatoes also play nicely with smoky flavors, like Spanish pimentón or Mexican chipotle peppers.
WTS: What are you favorite tomato varietals?
JA: It is amazing to see the abundance of different varietals at the farmers’ market and to know that each one has its own unique flavor, texture, and aroma. It is fun to experiment with varietals to taste what you like best. I think Brandywines are perfect for salads, while smoky Purple Cherokees can add a nice depth to a sofrito. And if you want to surprise your guests, make gazpacho with Green Zebras—they will be so surprised when they taste it!
WTS: What are your top sources for tomatoes?
JA: I love going to the farmers’ market for tomatoes—I can talk to the farmers about their land, their soil, their growing season. To really understand where a tomato comes from makes it that much sweeter! And I grow tomatoes at my house too—we have a few hydroponic plants inside and will definitely be planting more in the garden this year.
WTS: What is your first memory of eating a tomato?
JA: I remember eating one of the most classic Spanish tapas, pan con tomate. It is just toasted bread, rubbed all over with fresh tomato, and topped with olive oil and a bit of sea salt. I still love to eat it with a meal at home or at my restaurant Jaleo with pan de cristal, an amazingly crusty bread, which we import directly from Spain.