"I am a one-man revolution!" hooted José Andrés from the driver's seat, hanging up from yet another conversation on his cell phone. He had just spoken with the president of Asturias, the small region in northern Spain where Andrés was born and toward which we were now hurtling at 100 miles per hour. "He wants to meet with us," Andrés explained. All the excitement about his arrival, Andrés said, reminded him of one of his favorite films, Bienvenido, Mister Marshall. A '50s Spanish satire set during the first two decades of Franco's rule, it's a story of American politicians visiting post-World War II Spain and the sleepy village that spins out of control with preparations for their arrival.
"It is still like that in Asturias," Andrés said fondly of his birthplace, bordered by the Cantabrian Mountains to the south and an untouched rocky coastline to the north. "These small towns in Spain are so funny. The last time I was here, there were four pages in the local newspapers about my upcoming book."
Andrés may not be a big American politician, but when it comes to food, he is one of Spain's most important diplomats in the United States. Arguably Washington, D.C.'s most influential chef-restaurateur for the last decade, Andrés went to culinary school in Barcelona when he was 15 and trained under superstar chef Ferran Adrià at El Bulli in Rosas, Spain. Since taking over and revitalizing the kitchen at the Spanish restaurant Jaleo, in 1993, the 34-year-old chef has found further success with his Nuevo Latino menu at Café Atlántico and his Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern mezes at the year-old Zaytinya. Last year, he opened the six-seat Minibar at Café Atlántico, which he calls "his baby," and where he serves a menu of 30 wildly inventive small-plate dishes like foie gras with cotton candy and avocado-tomato sorbet in a cone. This fall, he'll open Oyamel, a Mexican restaurant.