While celebrity chef José Andrés is often credited with popularizing Spain’s avant-garde cuisine in the US, one of his first big hits wasn’t actually a dish but a cocktail.
The Salt Air Margarita, originally served in the late ‘90s at Café Atlántico in Washington, D.C., topped the traditional recipe with an emulsified salt foam.
It was no fluke. “I’m passionate about cocktails because I think they can be just as powerful [as food] in creating memories,” the James Beard Award-winning chef says. “Too often the cocktails are an afterthought, but really it’s all part of the experience.”
Andrés has been working professionally in kitchens since the age of 15. He learned his signature “molecular gastronomy”-esque cooking style as an apprentice under Ferrán Adriá at the famed El Bulli. He came to the States in 1990, and opened his Jaleo in 1993 in Washington. Today, Andrés runs 16 restaurants (plus a food truck) in D.C., Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and Puerto Rico.
Drinks have been on the menu at Andrés’ flagship, Minibar by José Andrés, since it debuted in 2003, but he really gets to indulge his passion at Barmini, the watering hole he opened inside the restaurant earlier this year. “I’ve been dreaming of doing this my whole life,” he says. “I wanted me and my bartenders to have a space to be inspired, to create something really unique and wow our guests.”
Featuring a list of more than 100 concoctions picked by Andrés and “cocktail innovator” Juan Coronado, Barmini marries tradition with the modernist techniques. Yes, there’s an Old Fashioned, but it’s finished with a mezcal-infused cotton candy. However, there’s also a standard Ramos Gin Fizz and a tasty Manhattan.
“Around the turn of the [20th] century, America’s bartenders were starting to do really great things and experimenting with new techniques and creating the most astonishing cocktails,” Andrés says. “We have cocktails that honor this amazing history, but I also believe in pushing boundaries.”
When he’s not working, Andrés’ tastes are, well, less boundary-pushing. Like many of his countrymen, the Spaniard is mad for Gin & Tonics. The bubbly summertime classic is his standard order whether he’s in a dive or somewhere fancy. And he has some very specific rules when he makes them at home.
“The perfect Gin & Tonic,” he says, “is always one part gin to three parts tonic. Proportions are important! I also use the largest chunks of ice I can find to keep my cocktail from watering down.”
Photo courtesy Skott Snider Photography