Dish: Jose vs. Flay -- Food fight is lip-smacking good fun

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When my husband and I were in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, we rang up our Spanish friend, Chef Jose Andres.

Food Network
Jose Andres, left, recently faced off against Bobby Flay on the Food Network show, "Iron Chef America."
Click photo for larger image.
If you go
Jaleo, 2250-A Crystal Drive, Crystal City, Va. (1-703-413-8181 or crystalcity@jaleo.com). There also are Jaleo restaurants in downtown Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, Md.

"You have to come over to Jaleo tomorrow to watch television," he said. " 'Iron Chef' is on. Come hungry."

Jose, always bursting with energy and creativity, has never awakened to a boring day in his life. Something must be up. "We're there," we said.

And we were. Sunday night, April 1, in the suburb of Crystal City, Va. The Food Network was telecasting the latest "Iron Chef America" competition starring first-time challenger Jose Andres vs. Bobby "the chef everybody loves to hate" Flay.

By the time we arrived, Jaleo was living up to its name. In Spanish, Jaleo means uproar, revelry and merrymaking. If you are an art buff, Google El Jaleo, John Singer Sargent's painting of a flamenco dancer. You can almost hear the stomping heels and clapping hands.

You are there. The buzz is pure Madrid. A two-hombre band plays Latin soul and jazz. Think of the Gypsy Kings on rioja.

The bar is mobbed with the young and not-so, with Jose worshippers and Flay foes. Everyone has a glass of something raised in one hand, as the other hand busies itself choosing from trays of tapas.

Watch out, make way: Two sturdy servers rush through the crowd to heave an oven-hot seafood paella, 40 inches in diameter, onto a buffet.

Off to the side, servers use long, thin knives to shave pieces of jamon serrano from hoof-on Spanish hams. This is half cast-party for Jose and half fund-raiser for D.C. Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization that feeds the homeless and trains people for careers in the food service. Jose, a founder and emeritas chair, is on the board.

Four huge rented plasma televisions, all tuned to the Food Network, wallpaper the sightlines. Their sound is off, but there big as Godzilla, is Emeril Lagasse hunching over his pots, mouthing soundless asides.

Bob and I settle into a deuce with a good view. Sipping flutes of cava, we order tapas -- olives, salted almonds, marinated white anchovies, bread and cheeses: Murcia, manchego and idiazabal. We hit on the jamon and paella, too.

We yell back and forth with a couple at the next table. Jose was practically born to cook, we say. Jose was born in the town of Mieres in Asturias, Spain, in 1969. By the age of 8, he already was helping his mother bake. At 12, he soloed on complex dishes like paella for his family.

By 16, he was already enrolled in the hotel and restaurant school in Barcelona. For an apprenticeship, he chose to work at restaurant El Bulli under master chef FerranAdria, who became his mentor.

Since moving to Washington, D.C., more than ten years ago, Jose has earned tons of honors and awards, including being tapped by the James Beard Foundation for "Best Chef of the Mid-Atlantic Region.

At a quarter of nine, "He's here," people shout, "He's here!"

Jose is in the building. And, surprisingly, he's subdued. Dressed in a white T-shirt, a rumpled brown vest and jeans, he looks like the aging fullback next door. It's hard to recognize him as the inspiration and entrepreneur behind restaurants Jaleo, Oyamel, Cafe Atlantico and Zaytinya. He also doesn't look the star of a daily one-hour food program in Madrid, which he is. He looks downcast. Do you think he lost to Flay, we wonder?

Jose works the crowd, touching a shoulder here, gripping an arm there, encouraging everyone to "Sit down, eat, eat. Try the gambas de ajillo. Taste the croquetas." He takes the mic and introduces his Iron Chef team, then takes his place with his family and guests at a long table, his back to the screen.

A few minutes before nine, another giant paella parts the crowd, just as the volume on the TVs is turned up to top decibels. Cheers, whistles, whoo-hoos, fists in the air as Planet Spain erupts.

All eyes are on the flashing frames on the screen. Smoke, music, Alton Brown pumping up the audience. There's a shot of Jose looking like he'd rather be somewhere else, please God. There's Iron Chef Flay preening and confident, nothing to lose.

The chairman stares his steely best as he announces to the camera: "Welcome to Battle Goat!"

Shriek! Tubs of goat body parts get full screen close-ups. Legs, ribs -- and is that a head with staring eyeballs?

Both chefs are OK with this choice. Goat has an audience both in the cuisines of Jose's Spain and Flay's American Southwest. But four or five courses in 60 minutes? This will be tough.

No football game has such action, drama and tension. Sous chefs scramble to their stations. Whack, whack -- cleavers glance off bones. Jose chop-chops goat tartare. Flay flame-roasts anaheim chilis. An immersion blender sails cream all over the set. Are those meatballs? Who got the head?

If the power went off, the cameras could run on psychic energy.

Jose's sweating bullets. Strange kitchen, going against a champ live.

Flay's cool, focused and sure. He smirks. Our crowd boos.

Cut to commercial. At Jaleo, Jose takes the mic. "Don't boo Bobby," he says. "Flay's really a sweetheart. He's my friend. He tells me, 'Relax, have fun.' We did. We love each other."

Back on screen, the dishes are almost ready. Alton introduces the judges. Jeffrey Steingarten, food writer for Vogue, looks puffy and pompous, as usual. Certified Master Chef Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary Institute of America and a Pittsburgh native son, looks a tad heavier than in his salad days, when he cooked in Pittsburgh. A pretty CBS news anchor, whose name we never heard, sits between them.

Flay's tagine of goat with couscous wins big praise. Jose's goat tartare, garnished with tiny blue borage flowers is a home run. Mr. Steingarten pokes at his goat ribs with corn and an aromatic barbecued dish and grunts unintelligibly. It's too salty for him. Mr. Ryan, serious and professional, raves over his goat tenderloin and mashed potatoes. He seems struck by Jose's goat under a bell jar, with its garnish of smoke. Smoke! He looks up and murmurs, " A wonderful dish." Mr. Ryan calls Jose's goat milk sorbet with wine-drop caviar, "brilliant."

During the last commercial break before the judging, Jose again takes the mic.

"On the set, I forget everything. I learned that I can improvise," he says. "I just concentrate on goat, goat, goat. I tell you something, though. From now on you will never, ever again see any goat on the menu at Jaleo."

The judges have voted, the scores are tallied. And the score is... is... 55 to 48.

It's Jose over Flay.

At Jaleo, a standing O for the new Iron Chef. Jose Andres stands, he beams, he bows. Corks pop. The crowd goes wild.

And that, my friends, is how a Spaniard throws a party.


POTATOES RIOJA-STYLE WITH CHORIZO (PATATAS A LA RIOJANA)

PG TESTED

Look for authentic Spanish chorizo in your local markets or online. Smoked pimenton, smoked paprika, will add wonderful flavor.

  • 3 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 7 ounces chorizo sausage, cut into ??-inch-thick slices
  • 1/2 pound Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon pimenton (Spanish sweet paprika)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Water

Warm the olive oil over low heat in a large shallow pan. Add the garlic and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute.

Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and tender and have turned a light brown color, at least 20 minutes. You want the onions to caramelize. If they start to get too dark, add 1/2 tablespoon of water to keep them from burning.

When the onions are caramelized, add the chorizo and continue frying until it too is browned, about 2 minutes. Place the potatoes in the pan and stir to coat them in the oil. Cook for 10 minutes.

Add the pimenton and the salt, pour in water to cover and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through and the water is reduced by half, about 20 minutes. You'll end up with a wonderful, thick stew. Makes 4 servings.

-- Jose Andres


Marlene Parrish may be reached at 412-481-1620 or mparrish@post-gazette.com


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