Spanish restaurants come rare in Dubai and only a few stand out. It’s no surprise that one of them is located in Atlantis The Royal.
Having only opened in early this year, a hallmark of this dining destination are the regionally-diverse traditional dishes elevated with complex techniques, designed to be shared among friends in a casual atmosphere.
At the helm is Spanish-American internationally recognized chef and humanitarian José Andrés, who holds two Michelin stars for his avant-garde tasting counter minibar and four Bib Gourmands.
Here, the culinary legend shares his formative culinary memories during childhood, his remarkable career journey, and what makes Jaleo different among the roster of exceptional dining destinations at Atlantis The Royal.
Talk us through your daily routine, the first 30 minutes of the day.
Probably for the first 30 minutes of my day I am thinking of just one thing: un cafe.
When did your love for food begin?
Both of my parents were nurses who worked very hard to put food on the table for four – yes four! – growing boys. My mother was a magician, she could make an incredible meal from next to nothing. Her croquetas, to this day, are the best I have had in my life and I have been trying for a lifetime to make them as good as hers.
You’ve had an incredible career and have earned plenty of accomplishments. How did you get your start in the culinary space?
My father was the one who taught me first about the importance of controlling the fire. That is, in fact, more important than cooking itself! Without fire, there is no paella! You must first learn to tend the fire. He loved to cook for everyone. If more people showed up he told me, just add more rice. I was not exactly the best student but I did go to culinary school before leaving to learn from my mentor, and now friend, Ferran Adrià, at his legendary restaurant, El Bulli.
You’ve clearly worked incredibly hard to get where you are today. As a highly accomplished Michelin-starred chef, is there pressure to constantly innovate revolutionary gastronomy concepts?
Innovation I think is misunderstood. You know what is revolutionary? Simple solutions. Sometimes the most ground-breaking discovery where everyone says oh, wow this is genius is actually something very simple, that has been right in front of us the whole time. Think of something like fermentation: it’s wild. You have these microscopic sugars breaking down, giving off heat, becoming something new before our very eyes. This is a revolution, man! It’s not so much up to us to make something new but to pay attention to what is becoming new all around us, all the time, everywhere, all at once!
The culinary experience at Jaleo is exceptional. In a short span of time, it has become the go-to spot for Spanish fine dining – what is the recipe to this success in such a location?
You know what blows my mind? Jaleo – the first one – opened in Washington DC thirty years ago! In some ways, that feels like yesterday. Then, people really thought I was crazy, making these tapas for everyone to share. Who knows, maybe they still do? But, what I love about Jaleo is that in just one bite you are transported to the best of Spain. It is this beautiful dance of flavors in your mouth. You are one bite away from the best trip of your life.
To you, what are the must-try standout dishes at Jaleo?
Just one? No, no, no you must have 3 or 4 or 10 or 20 dishes. That is the Jaleo way! Start with a hot, creamy croqueta, then the crunchy pan con tomate, maybe some sizzling gambas next, then boom a giant paella comes to your table like a parade… please tell me you will eat more than one dish.
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In your personal opinion, what is the difference between a good meal and a great meal?
If you are lost, share a plate of food with a stranger…you will find who you are. A great meal is one you share with others.
What’s next for José Andrés?
One never knows. It has been a truly remarkable year for Jaleo at Atlantis The Royal, and we look forward to many more successes in 2024. From Jaleo securing inclusion in the Michelin Guide Dubai 2023 to the Gault&Millau UAE Guide 2024, I couldn’t be prouder of the team. All I can say is watch this space as we’re currently cooking a few new launches which we’ll be revealing in the coming months.