The trailblazing chef also shares his global expansion plans: China could be next

By Andy Wang
December 14, 2018
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No matter what he accomplishes, chef-humanitarian-Nobel Peace Prize nominee José Andrés is always thinking about what he wants to do next. So there he is on Tuesday night at the 10th anniversary celebration of The Bazaar at SLS Beverly Hills, telling us that he’s considering moving from Maryland to Los Angeles in the not-so-distant future. His youngest daughter is in high school, and he could foresee relocating to L.A. when she’s in college.

“I should, because life is short and you want to experience life in other parts,” Andrés says. “I feel at home in L.A. It’s been good to me. I want to give back to L.A.” Wherever he ends up living, Andrés has big plans to grow The Bazaar globally. Earlier this year, Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup bought the rights to The Bazaar, a restaurant brand that the chef created with his friend Sam Nazarian’s SBE Entertainment Group. This gives Andrés complete control of The Bazaar’s future expansion, which won’t be limited to Nazarian’s SLS hotels.

“We will open in Asia, that’s for sure,” Andrés says. “I hope Shanghai is next. I hope London will happen. Eventually, we’ll open in New York.”

In the meantime, Andrés already has Bazaar Meat in Las Vegas, The Bazaar in South Beach, and Bazaar Mar in downtown Miami. He’s also focused on “reinventing” The Bazaar in L.A., where he’ll be, among other things, updating the bars, creating a “more 2.0 environment” for pastries, and using hydroponics to grow vegetables inside the restaurant.

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One of the biggest changes happened already: In March, Andrés and Aitor Zabala opened avant-garde tasting-menu counter Somni inside The Bazaar.

“I think Somni right now is the most exciting restaurant in L.A. by far, one of the most exciting in America,” says Andrés, who’s been hearing the rumors about the Michelin Guide returning to L.A. and is ready for that to happen. “Aitor is doing unbelievable fucking work. Aitor, with the support of the team here and the support of our team in D.C., is flying very high. That’s what we do. We can’t relax. We always push the envelope. When people think we gave our best, we always seem to give better. Aitor didn’t move here for the sake of moving here. He came here because we had big plans.”

Andrés also gives credit to The Bazaar executive chef Holly Jivin, “the most underrated chef in America,” for keeping fuel in the tank at SLS Beverly Hills. With a team like he has, Andrés says he sees no reason why The Bazaar can’t thrive for another decade.

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His dining room is buzzing during the anniversary party as he sits at a patio table and talks about how L.A. has good infrastructure for restaurants. It all starts with farmers markets.

“Farmers markets probably have been the greatest story of the last 20 years in America,” Andrés says. “Before I opened in L.A., I heard that L.A. was never a good food city. I would look around and be like, ‘What the fuck is everybody talking about?’ The truth was, L.A. was already a food powerhouse. The farmers markets make it possible.”

Andrés shouts out chefs like Patina’s Joachim Splichal, Matsuhisa’s Nobu Matsuhisa, and Mozza’s Nancy Silverton as pioneers who paved the way in L.A.

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“Yes, 10 years ago, Bazaar was another revolution,” he says. “But revolutions don’t happen without a base somewhere. You always build above something that was there before. We had one of the best Japanese restaurants in the history of America right here.”

Matsuhisa, which opened in 1987, is still here and busy, down the street from The Bazaar. But there’s no question that 2008, the year when The Bazaar opened, was a watershed year for L.A. food. Roy Choi’s Kogi truck, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s Animal, and Travis Lett’s Gjelina all debuted in 2008.

“I would say what happened 10 years ago, if anything, was an awakening and a confirmation that this was a powerful town,” Andrés says. “The foundation was already there.”

The rise of Kogi, Andrés says, shined a light on how “eating is the best form of democracy, and everybody should be part of the celebration of food.” Chefs like Choi, Andrés adds, “had such a subtle message but a profound message.” Street food has long been a vital part of L.A. culture, but having the masses “recognize that it’s there and that it’s important” matters a lot.

What also matters a lot is what The Bazaar gave L.A.

“I’m going to be humble saying it,” Andrés says. “But at the end, I’m going to be pragmatic. When we opened Bazaar, there was nothing like Bazaar anywhere in America. Nothing.”

This restaurant has always had whimsy to spare, whether you’re eating a bagel-and-lox cone, a riff on a Philly cheesesteak made with crispy, hollow “air bread,” or foie gras inside cotton candy. This is where you can marvel at modernist cooking and drink liquid-nitrogen cocktails before moving from the dining room to the patisserie. The Bazaar is an exceedingly fun place to visit. It’s also been hugely influential, with talent like Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio getting their start in L.A. here.

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“Mr. Voltaggio is here!” Andrés shouts as he sees both Michael and Bryan Voltaggio enter the party. Hugging and photos ensue. Michael Voltaggio posts a picture on Instagram and says that The Bazaar is his favorite restaurant that he’s ever worked at.

Andrés sits back down to discuss his life in 2018. It’s been an intense year for the chef, who says he hopes to be home with his family for the upcoming holidays. But on Thanksgiving, he wasn’t home. Andrés, along with chefs Guy Fieri, Tyler Florence, and Jenn Louis, was working with volunteers at three kitchens and a parking lot in Chico, California, to prepare nearly 20,000 meals for Camp Fire victims. The year before, Andrés was in Puerto Rico, where his World Central Kitchen team made around 40,000 Thanksgiving meals in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

He says he’s humbled about his Nobel Peace Prize nomination, but he’s quick to point out that a lot of people get nominated and also that there are countless others doing important hunger-relief work without getting any attention. It’s also worth noting that Andrés has been doing this kind of work for 25 years, since he started peeling potatoes as a volunteer at D.C. Central Kitchen. He’s spent his adult life fighting hunger and he’s more committed than ever.

When Andrés is convinced he wants to do something, there are few things that can stand in his way. This is the chef who spent seven years trying to get Ibérico pork at Jaleo in Washington, D.C., and now he can reap the benefits of all his hard work and financial investments by serving a new menu of Ibérico de Bellota cuts at Jaleo in Las Vegas. This is the chef who researched cattle from all over the world for Bazaar Meat and realized in 2014 that he should serve cuts from mature California Holsteins that don’t taste like any other beef. To say that Andrés is ahead of trends is an understatement.

It’s 10 years after he opened The Bazaar, and his L.A. restaurant is still as relevant as ever. So on Tuesday, as a packed house stands in line for cured meats and desserts, every other conversation seems to be about the L.A. dining scene. “She really likes Ma’am Sir, so we should go there next,” is how one discussion begins. One guest sees Zabala and excitedly whispers to a friend: “That’s Eater L.A.’s chef of the year!”

Andrés gets up from his patio seat and walks toward the dining room. “Let’s go,” he says, ready to enjoy a party at a 10-year-old restaurant that still pops with pure possibility.

The Bazaar by José Andrés, 465 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-246-5555

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