Free Range on Food: Jose Andres

Jul 14, 2011

Today's topics: The edible history lesson at America Eats Tavern, and the "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" exhibit at the National Archives. Guests: Chef Jose Andres and curator Alice Kamps.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Welcome to today's special chat featuring chef Jose Andres, the man behind the new America Eats Tavern, a celebration of the history of US cooking; and Alice Kamps, the curator of the "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" exhibit at the National Archives that inspired Jose's work.

Ask anything you want of Jose and Alice, but we're hoping to keep this as focused on the history of American food (such as AET's mushroom catsup, shown below) as we can, so those questions will get priority.

Let's get started!

Hi Chef, My husband and I live in DC and have had the pleasure at dining of all of your restaurants (except Minibar, unforunately) and we'll be dining at Bazaar while in LA at the end of August. What's not to miss? Thanks and keep up the good work!

One of each....ho ho ho

I enjoyed the observation that you're able to see sometimes what the locals are not able to see. The Tavern's menu seems to be set up as a celebration of American food history, but the exhibit at NARA is actually somewhat critical of our past with food and documents a few missteps and follies. With your outsider status, can you offer insight into mistakes you observed that DID NOT make it into your menu? What do you wish Americans had the ability to see more of today?

As the curator of What's Cooking, Uncle Sam? I wanted to weigh in on the comment that the exhibit is somewhat critical of our past with food. My intent in presenting the stories and records in the exhibit was to show both the successful and not-so-successful Government efforts to improve the nutritional value of our diets. With the benefit of our current knowledge of nutrition, it's easy to see that it was a mistake, for example, when Wilbur Atwater deemphasized fruits and vegetables in the diet in the early 1900's. At the time, the critical role played by vitamins wasn't known. I hope that this look backward helps us consider the fact that there are things we will discover in the future, that may make us consider our current approach to nutrition as naive. Just as our knowledge about nutrition evolves, so does our taste in food. I am also interested in the recipes that Jose rejected because they simply wouldn't have appealed to our contemporary palates.

well to feed a nation is never easy! mistakes were made but also great decisions that save us from starvation as an example. we have more dishes than menu space. anyone with recipes send them my way info@thinkfoodgroup.com

Just wanted to start things off by saying thanks to Jose Andres for his food vision - I've celebrated my birthday at Jaleo every year for the past 10 years. I appreciate the risks that he takes and that he shares his passion for all food - humble slices of great tomato bread to the finest at Minibar.

i want to congratulate Alice Kamps for her amazing vision with this  exhibit.......Thanks to you and happy birthday

What in the exhibition surprised Alice the most? Are there any original records in the exhibit or are they all facsimiles? Any audio or video?

There were so many surprises it's difficult to pick one, but I would say that I was most surprised by the "Poison Squad," an experiment led by Harvey Wiley beginning in 1903. He enlisted volunteers to eat foods laced with chemical additives that he suspected were dangerous to people's health, like boric acid and formaldehyde. I was especially surprised to learn that he had no shortage of volunteers! There are over 100 original records in the exhibit -- it's not to be missed!

How is the exhibit organized? Is it family-friendly - can I bring my kids? Do I need tickets? If so, how much are they?

The exhibit is organized into 4 parts: Farm, Factory, Kitchen, and Table. You can learn more about each of the sections and see sample documents and film clips here. Yes - bring your kids. I've seen a lot of families having a great time in the exhibit. You don't need tickets, the exhibit and the rest of the National Archives Experience is free. There can be long lines though, expecially in the summer. To learn how to make an advance reservation, go here.

With all the popularity and media coverage surrounding the America Eats Tavern, what is the likelihood that the pop-up restaurant becomes permanent?

Im not thinking about that right now.....

Hi Jose: As a National Archives employee, I can't thank you enough for your partnership with our agency. I trust that your restaurant and involvement will bring a ton of new interest and visitors to the agency and our exhibits. I was wondering if the menu at the tavern will change at all between what it is now and when it closes in January? What is your favorite item on the menu?

It will be changing a lot. For me to partner with the National Archives is a dream come true. My favorite is  the Joy of Cooking Irma Rombabuer 1931 Shrimp and Grapefruit cocktail.

I heard a crazy rumor about "What's Cooking" being a SCENTED exhibit? Is that possible? If so, what does it smell like?

Crazy - but true! You can see, hear, touch (some facsimiles) and smell this exhibit. Then you can go up to America Eats and taste history! The scent, by the way, is an iconic American dessert.

If you could do a multimedia feature on a food trend or phenomenon in DC what would it be? I'm an AU grad student wanting to shoot a mini doc on an interesting topic like, what it's like to be a food reviewer? I would love an informed suggestion! Thanks.

Food writers or critics that become so without any preparation......I will document that...

I prepared! ;-)

Is it true that a World War II food chart listed BUTTER as its own food group? If so, can we get that reinstated? That sounds wonderful!

There's a nutrition poster from WWII that includes 7 different food groups, one of which is butter and fortified margarine. (And after eating something from each group, you can "eat any other foods you want.") At the time, there was great concern about malnutrition in America. Now that it's just the opposite, it might be a hard sell to have it reinstated.

I was absolutely blown away by America Eats, so, thank you. Having read all of those (ok, most) cookbooks in graduate school, it's hard to describe the joy of tasting those foods. Was most impressed by the knowledge of the wait staff. And the food was fantastic--as were the cocktails. Bravo! Here's my question: did you try the recipe the original way first? Whose recipes did you stick to most faithfully? Also: thank you. Eating at your restaurant was a true treat.

Thanks. Oh yes. We did.......We had to change many of  the recipes, particularly quantities. Too much mace or cloves, or too long cooking times etc....Others are as they were....

You've recently spoken in favor of eating less meat and touted the "sexiness" of fruits and veggies. However, i dont see many vegetarian options on the America Eats menu. Any plans to add more veggie options? My wife and I love going to Jaleo because the menu is so vegetarian friendly...

We have plenty: hush puppies, Harvard beets salad, corn on the cob, peanut butter and jelly, peanut soup, vermicelli prepared like pudding. Plus many vegetables as garnishes of meats or fish that we will be very happy to prepare for you......

Great job, Alice! Just saw "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" at the National Archives and LOVED it. Who came up with the idea for this unique exhibit? How long did it take to research it?

Thank you! The idea came from Christina Rudy-Smith, our Director of Exhibits. She has worked at the Archives for many years and has long wanted to exhibit them as a group. I researched for about 18 months.

Traditional foods in Central PA are very much still a part of the culture. I would love to find a restaurant outside of that region that served pot pie (not in a crust, but the stew with giant slippery noodles), shoo-fly pie, ham and green beans, teaberry ice cream, or rivel soup. The only thing that anyone seems to be making these days is chicken and waffles. It would be fun to try a talented chef's interpretation of some of these dishes, as they are fairly basic and could be enhanced creatively in a number of ways.

Send me a recipe please!

That email is info@thinkfoodgroup.com.

We went to your restaurant in LA and was blown away. Wow! The food was so good. Will you ever decide to open it here in DC? Also, how often do you go to Vegas and LA to check up on your restaurants? You are one busy man!

yes i go often but i have an amazing team there

I was in Miami a few months ago and saw you were opening another Bazaar -- any plans to bring this amazing restaurant to DC?

Bazaar is better suited for Los Angeles or Miami at this point......

In the past few years, it seems as if DC has blossomed into the new food hot spot. What do you think initiated this and what makes DC so unique and different from places, say New York or Minnesota? (PS-I am a huge fan and am excited to try America Eats Tavern this monday!) -Lucy

We are a small town but we always had great chefs, Michel Richard, Jean Louis Palladin, Roberto Donna, Yannick Cam, Todd Gray, Ann Cashion, Patrick O'Connell, Ris Lacoste, Bob Kinkead, etc etc Kaz Okochi etc etc etc

Chef Andres, I know this sounds like a flippant question, but it's not: Did you ever consider actually putting a hamburger on the menu? It really is an iconic American dish.

We have it for lunch.....

I've already eaten at the AE Tavern once, where a staff member told me that they weren't serving the burger yet because you weren't happy with the way the burgers were turning out. True? Is there burger yet?

yes ,yes, they are on already.....

This questions is for Alice: did you ever find records on the production of coffee beans or cocoa?

I didn't come across records for either but I didn't specifically look for them. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some on both topics.

Chef, I have reservations for America Eats Tavern tomorrow night. What dishes should I make sure to order? Thank you!

Shrimp with Grapefruit, and Pickle oysters

My 1950-something facimile copy of the Betty Crocker cookbook has the seven food groups that contain butter in it. Also no pasta dish in that book is complete without breadcrumbs!

Vermiccelli prepared like pudding (the original name of what we now call Mac and Cheese) from 1802 had only butter and Parmesan.

Mr. Andres: Cafe Atlantico was our favorite restaurant in your group! Will it be back? My future mother-in-law from San Francisco talks about it all the time!

Will one day........

Can both Alice and Jose talk about how the "What's Cooking" exhibit influenced America Eats? Are any of the exhibition recipes used at America Eats? What about exhibition images? And, most importantly, should I see the exhibit first and then go to America Eats, or vice versa?

America Eats has incorporated many of the exhibition images into its design, which is wonderful to see. There are only a few recipes in the exhibit, and I don't think any of them are on the menu. Given that one of them is for "liver loaf" and comes from the 1946 school lunch program, it's probably for the best. As far as what order to visit the restaurant and exhibit - I think it depends on how hungry you are!

Yes Alice and Archivist David Ferriero were VERY helpful in providing us with recipes. "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam,' is more than recipes. Geoge Washington Carver shows up in the exhibit, so we have Peanut Soup, etc....Clinton's Gazpacho , Eisenhower Beef Stew.......

As a regular at Jaleos (both locations), Zatinya and Oyamel, I made a point of insisting that we try China Poblana. Was not very impressed with it. A kind of dumbed-down version of Oyamel on the Mexican side. Mole tacos not impressive. On the Asian side, I can do better in Irvine, CA, which has some great seafood places. On the other hand, you have made us LOVE Spain, jamon iberico and pan tomate (why isn't the recipe in the cookbook?). Latest trek was to Salamanca (great city) through Madrid (grows on you).

Listen I think China Poblano is an amazing place.....We are not perfect, but my team in Vegas, Chinese and Mexican, are doing an amazing job. Sorry if we didn't meet your expectations, but many people think different than you. Send me an email at info@thinkfoodgroup.com, and I will send you a Gift Certificate so you can try it again....And maybe change your opinion......

My sister is a huge fan of Grant Achatz - she just ate at Next Restaurant yesterday afternoon and sent me pictures of the food. Have you worked with Grant before and what do you think of his Next Restaurant and the different way it's being run?

He is a great kid and a great chef.......His restaurant should be awesome....And is always good to see new ways to run things.

Chef--we are BIG fans of Penn Quarter Jaleo's. Although we don't get into the city that often, we consider PQ Jaleo's to be a treat for us and go as often as we can. On the flip side, we tried Bethesda Jaleo's and we found that the food quality did not seem quite as solid. The flavors and preparation were not quite of the same standard. Yesterday on Tom Sietsema's chat a resident of Bethesda also noted this. Do you often revisit some of the existing venues to see if they are still up to par? It seems that while Bethesda Jaleo was once on a par with PQ Jaleo, locals say that this is a trend and not a selected instance. Another chatter also mentioned they felt that Zatinya was also not at the standard when it opened. Still good, just not as good as when it was new.

"Still good just not as good..." That's the same we say about our sex life......Live is more exciting when we try things at the begginning, sometimes it's perception. I believe since I opened we got better and better...We are always busier than the year before, and doesn't happen by chance. Many of my team members they've been there since the beginning, and the new people are always getting better more prepepared........And believe me my team today is better then 15 years ago, than 10 years ago, than 5 years ago all across my restaurants. We are not perfect, but we are really good......

Why do you think America tends to neglect its heritage, in food and in other matters? Is it the relative youngness of the nation, or is it a form of arrogance in that we think we will always make tomorrow better than today?

America has beeen very generous with the people and the foods that came from abroad. So we don't neglect as much as we love every single type of ethnic cooking, so we forget ours at times.....

I checked the restaurant's web site yesterday, but the menus were still the ones for Cafe Atlantico. I don't know if I can make it there, but it would be very interesting to see what you're serving.

www.americaeatstavern.com........is working! refresh your web page please....

Is the menu online?

oh yes....I uploaded the menu with my two bare hands while making a gin and tonic....

Vegetarians need to remember that America Eats is based on historical American recipes, when the only reason people ate strictly vegetarian entrees was extreme poverty. (Even then, potatoes or bread would be cooked in animal fat.)

Yes.....But AET is not only historical, we will have simple and humble vegetables or fruits as the seasons move on. If it grows here, is American.....The modernity of yesterday is the tradition of today, and the modernity of today will be tradition tomorrow...

i have been seeing this on menu's lately. it sounds delicious. where can i find it and what can i use it in at home?

Duck Bacon? If it is good why not......

D'Artagnan carries it, among others. ...

Another question for Alice: what made you decide to focus on Farm, Factory, Kitchen, and Table?

I thought it would be interesting to look at the different ways the Government has affected our food in each of those areas, rather than to take a chronological approach. Farm covers effects on what farmers grow, how they grow it, and market controls on their products. Factory discusses government regulations, inspection, and technology related to processed foods. Kitchen is about nutrition research and guides, home economics programs, and wartime food campaigns. Table addresses the effects of school lunch, military food and the personal preferences of the Presidents on the American public.

I've enjoyed eating at such restaurants of Chef Andres as Jaleo, Oyamel, and Zaytinya many times; in addition to offering fine food, these establishments tend to offer reasonable prices (in the context of downtown DC). Looking at the online menu of America Eats Tavern, I can't really say the same. Some prices are reasonable, but others are in the stratosphere:$10 for hush puppies? $12 for corn on the cob or a beet salad? $28 for a chicken pot pie? How do you justify these prices?

I'm amazed sometimes the perception of pricing. We use top-quality local or American ingredients, and they are the price they are....If we want to help the economy, we need to buy shrimp from Lousiana that are more expensive than the ones from India....etc etc etc. My corn for hush puppies comes from Anson Mills in South Carolina, which protects heritage American seeds. I can buy it half price from Mexico......But are we doing an American restaurant or are we not? Plus, all the earnings will go the National Archives Foundation to help preserve the important documents of our nation..........

Chef, I just traveled to LA last week and being from DC and a fan of all your restaurant, I made sure to go to The Bazaar. It was by far the greatest dining experience I've ever had. I felt like I was at a show at the same time as being in a restaurant. The food and service was unparalleled to anywhere else I've been. Just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you! I can't wait for my history lesson tomorrow at America Eats Tavern!

Thanks, I love that concept.......See you tomorrow....

A legacy of the '60s and '70s is the notion that non-ethnic Americans (i.e., the then-majority of northern European descent) have no culture and the cuisine is all white bread and mayonnaise. I'm glad to see this correction. Did you find any recipies for shelly beans, btw? My country aunts used to make these, and you could buy them canned, but I can't find any references today (other than other people looking for them). I think they were a "shelling" variety of green bean, eaten with the pod. They've been supplanted by quick cooking thin green beans, I think, but boiled for an hour with some bacon...mmm...

I will look more into it, and maybe you just gave me a new idea.........thanks

The "web site" link from the Post's review of AET (http://www.washingtonpost.com/gog/restaurants/america-eats-tavern,796043.html) goes to the Cafe Atlantico web site, which promotes AET but is apparently not the same.

We'll fix -- thanks!

I live in South Florida but have family in the DC Metro area. If I can get up to visit, I would love to see the exhibit. How much time should I allow to see it all?

We would love to have you! I would allow at least an hour but to really experience all the wonderful records plan to be there for 2.

In yesterday's chat, someone mentioned how run down Zaytinya has become, and the complaints about inconsistency at your restaurants are, well, pretty consistent. Tom's answer was "well, he, and the restaurant 'group" is juggling a lot of balls right now. With all due respect (both my husband and I are big fans, and we frequent your restaurants often), I think that's a lame excuse for letting things go. I'd take it if you were struggling, but you are wildly successful, and so is your "group." How about hiring some of our 9.2% unemployed people to help you out with all those balls you're juggling? It would be a win-win .... some might even be willing to clean those messy bathrooms ... unless of course, you LIKE juggling all those balls all by you and your "group's" self, and you don't mind dropping a few here and there.

I disagree with you. info@thinkfoodgroup.com....email me and will take care of you......I hire plenty of people all the time, but again......My restaurants have a upward trend, this doesn't happen on its own. When the economy was down for the last 3 years still our guest count went up. That's a lot of happy guests. But we are not perfect, we are human, and things may happen sometimes....But my restaurants are run by very professional people, that devote their lives to serve you. And I have more of them and better prepared than before....So....Sorry to disagree......Still love you

I have been a fan of yours for quite sometime and I am always a happy customer, whether it's at Jaleo(my husband is a spaniard, so we know spanish food) Oyamel, Zaytinya or CA. We are very excited to try America Eats, we already made reservations for next month! The only place we haven't been is Minibar! Not for lack of trying, we just simply have never gotten through. Please continue the great work and don't worry about the nay sayers..even in the economic downturn your restaurants are always full, you have plenty of fans. I, for one, can't wait to try those $10 hushpuppies! I just wish they were around last summer when the only thing I craved while pregnant was a hushpuppy!

(Hush puppies and corn on the cob are not exactly vegetarian meal options.)

Just curious, why isn't this an exhibit in association with the American History Museum? The connection to the mission of the National Archives isn't as clear cut... Best regards, ~Pats Fan

Almost all of the records on display are from the holdings of the National Archives . Part of the mission of our exhibits is to help people to understand the breadth and scope of records that are preserved for the public. Most people wouldn't expect there to be records about food, but almost anything that touches our lives is represented in our holdings.

Thanks, everybody -- we're out of time. Appreciate the q's!

And many thanks to Jose and Alice for tackling them. Until next time, happy cooking, eating and learning...

people of America love you.....

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