The Oil Experiment That Made José Andrés Fall In Love With Cooking

It wasn't food that enticed José Andrés to embrace a career in the culinary arts; it was physics. The award-winning chef, author, restaurateur, and humanitarian realized early on that he wanted to cook. Over the course of his stellar career, Andrés has shared anecdotes about key moments that ushered him along his life path. A native of Asturias, an autonomous community on the Bay of Biscay in northwestern Spain, Andrés spent his formative years in Barcelona on the country's Mediterranean coast. One of his earliest memories centers on a trip to visit an uncle in Aragón. Only two hours from Barcelona, Aragón is known for wide-ranging temperatures and strong winds resulting from its location in Spain's Ebro Depression, a valley bounded by the Pyrenees to the north and the Iberian System to the south.

"It was very cold that day, because it was early spring during Lent, and it was already getting dark when we arrived," Andrés told First We Feast in 2015. "There was a big, metal cauldron over an open fire in his chimney in the kitchen, and he was cutting bread," Andrés recalled, remembering how his uncle cooked the bread in pork fat with garlic over the fire, creating a memory that still inspires him. "The smell was intoxicating, and it took practically an hour of cooking to be ready."

That may have been the first, but it wasn't the last time cooking with fire ignited Andrés' culinary creativity.

All fired up

Cooking with fire appears to be a theme in Andrés' journey to culinary stardom. Another favorite memory involves Sunday cookouts at the family homestead in Mieres, Spain. "My father would make a giant paella that could feed the large crowds that would come over. I always wanted to help him cook, but all he would let me do was collect firewood and tend the fire," Andrés shared with First We Feast. It was a point of contention that infuriated young Andrés until his father shared his reasoning. The prep, chopping, and cooking were the easy tasks, his father explained. Without fire, there would be no paella.

Maybe that's why an unexpected turn of events in the 1980s resonated. Andrés was working at elBulli under the direction of Ferran Adría. He was manning the fry station while a colleague was making almond milk gelatin when Adria entered the kitchen. "Back and forth his eyes went," Andrés recalled. "I knew what he was thinking — we all did. He grabbed the spoon of gelatin and threw it into the oil."  The result was predictable — a flash fire erupted. But Andria's takeaway was the ah-ha moment that confirmed his life path.

"I fell in love with cooking that day, because I saw that it's so much more than just cooking: it's about learning while you cook, and pushing the boundaries of what you know so that you can grow and move forward."