September 2008

If you want to experience the soul of Spain, you need to sit at her table. Throughout the week, the people of Spain devote a lot of their leisure time to visiting with one another over food. In traditional Spain, families have their main meal together during the noontime siesta. Later in the late afternoon, they gather at a café with their neighbors over delicious plates of jamón, manchego and olives. Often, the tapas bar is the same one they have gone to year after year – perhaps since they accompanied their parents as little children playing under the table. 

A person who personifies this marriage of his native land and its custom of eating is our friend José Andrés. He started Jaleo, our favorite tapas restaurant in Washington, and now has a new television series, Made in Spain, which many of you can watch on your local PBS station. Our family is helping sponsor his creation, because we share his vision to bring to America the wonderful food and extraordinary culture of traditional Spain. 

The first time José and I met was at a flamenco concert in Washington. Over the years, as we have gotten to know each other better, I have enjoyed seeing parallels in our lives – even though we are quite different people. For example, we both have ties to the sea.

When I was a young man, I was chaplain to a squadron of five US Navy destroyers. Our first deployment was an extraordinary Mediterranean cruise. After making the Atlantic crossing, we anchored in the sparkling Bay of Palma de Mallorca, and climbed through Palma’s winding streets. Next, we joined the people of Valencia during their amazing Las Fallas celebration. Then we tied up on the Barcelona waterfront close to the fabulous Ramblas on which we strolled while on liberty by the hour. From the first moment I stepped ashore, I felt a kinship with the Spanish people - as I still do 40 years later. 

When José was a young man, he enlisted in the Spanish Navy to fulfill his military obligation. After a stint cooking for the admiral’s official functions, he sailed the seas as part of the crew of the magnificent four-masted sailing ship Juan Sebastián Elcano. His ship also embarked on an extraordinary cruise across the Atlantic - just as I had a generation earlier – this time to the West! His liberty ports included Pensacola, Manhattan, Baltimore and the vast naval port of Norfolk on the Chesapeake Bay. From the moment he stepped ashore, he felt a kinship with the American people, which remains to this day.

Another thing we have in common is our mission to act as a bridge between Spain and America. On the one hand, La Tienda introduces to Americans the artisan foods that Spaniards enjoy at their table back home. We travel throughout the Spanish countryside, finding new wholesome products and visiting with the families who prepare them. 

Most memorable are the friendships we make with the very small producers, whom we help continue their traditional ways by offering their handmade goods to you through La Tienda. Ruth and I remember fondly our visit with Juan Antonio and María Angeles and their young daughter in their modest home, where they taught us about their saffron harvest. Tim and Jonathan enjoyed their visit with the Villajos brothers in a remote farm in La Mancha to see them make Manchego cheese by hand. Just last April we met Esther Tusal who uses her grandmother’s recipe for glazed almonds.

On the other hand, José acts a bridge between Spain and America in a different way through his love of his compatriots, his joy in preparing their cuisine and his skill in bringing this to America. Under the inspiring direction of famed Ferrán Adria of La Roses, he learned to be an accomplished chef, yet always in the back of his mind he wanted to become the ambassador of Spanish food to America. 

After an initial venture in New York, José settled in Washington, DC where he met his lovely Andalucían wife Patricia, with whom he has three young daughters. Together with two businessmen, he opened Jaleo. Several restaurants followed, yet José never lost track of his roots. 

He returned to Spain to produce Vamos a Cociner (Let’s Cook) an innovative cooking show on Spanish national TV in which he traveled the back roads of Spain, showing his countrymen the depth of their heritage. Encouraged by the enthusiastic acceptance of his show in Spain, in 2007 he launched Made in Spain, designed specifically for us Americans. 

When I settle on the couch to enjoy a segment of José’s show on a DVD, I find his open and inviting personality and delightful sense of humor to be a wonderful tonic. Through watching the show together, Ruth and I enjoy accompanying him on a virtual trip to many of the towns that we have visited in person. 

But unlike our actual visits, José introduces us to down-to-earth cuisine prepared by warm and friendly chefs who clearly enjoy José‘s company. Then he takes us to his Bethesda, MD kitchen to show us how easy it is for us to cook it. And he is right!

I encourage you to view his show this fall. If it is not shown on your local PBS station, you can get the DVD of all the episodes of Made in Spain from La Tienda.

We wish you and your families the best, now that summer has ended, and autumn is at hand.

Tu amigo,