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José Andrés: Chef's Tour of Spain

Jose Andres sitting down with coffee.

Photo: Darko Zagar

That noontime nosh is followed by a proper lunch, if proper can describe 20 courses spread over four hours. Casa Gerardo sits on the main road of Prendes, 20 miles north of Oviedo. The father-son team of Pedro and Marcos Morán has earned the restaurant a Michelin star for taking vanguardista cooking and making it warmer and more accessible. Red mullet with potato emulsion, sea urchin with tahini, and razor clams in almond butter sound like dishes for culinary intellectuals, but they taste like recipes passed down for generations. The climax is an ethereal version of fabada, Asturias’s best-known dish, a normally dense stew of beans simmered with sausage and slabs of pork fat. “Nobody is eating a fabada like this anywhere else because there is no other fabada like this,” pronounces Andrés, holding up a spoonful of beans. As he’s both Asturian and an Adrià disciple, he’s uniquely qualified to know.

Not far away is Gijón, a jewel of a port where we walk the seawall under puffy clouds and above the shimmering bay. We stop for a coffee, then continue to hug the coast until we reach the cobblestoned fishing village of Tazones. Up a street is an hórreo, a centuries-old stone granary. Hórreos in Asturias tend to be square, as opposed to the long, rectangular ones of Galicia, Andrés explains with the precision of an archaeologist.

Though we finished lunch only three hours before, we’re in Tazones to eat. Bar Rompeolas is a ramshackle fish house with wooden beams and cloth-covered tables. The owner produces basketball-size crabs that Andrés holds up to inspect. A woman in a gray coat shows up carrying a plastic bag of twitching lobsters. Friends of Andrés’s arrive, filling out a large table. And for the next few hours, food appears with the regularity of tidal currents: fried calamari, a bubbling cauldron of clams, glorious egg-battered monkfish that has the delicate crunch of fine tempura, and those crabs and lobsters, cooked to perfection.

One of the guests runs the Centro Niemeyer in Avilés, near Prendes. He tells me about the organization’s dramatic new facility, which opened in December 2010, perhaps the final creative act by the 103-year-old Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. “It will change the area,” he says. I’m skeptical until he ticks off an impressive list of advisers and collaborators: Brad Pitt; Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka; writer Paulo Coelho; Stephen Hawking—and Andrés, who apparently has promised to be a guest chef at the center’s restaurant. I wonder why I haven’t heard of this before. “This is Asturias,” the man says with a shrug. “News doesn’t travel.”

It’s after midnight again, and we’re two hours from our next hotel. While he drives east under a full moon, Andrés has a series of animated phone conversations. I’m amazed by his limitless energy, one reason he was able to arrive in the United States as an adult and in short order succeed as a chef, impresario, and television personality, while simultaneously making an even bigger name for himself in Spain. Finally, for the first time all day, he falls quiet. I look over to make sure that he isn’t nodding off at the wheel and find him steering the car with his forearms, answering e-mails.

Inland Asturias consists of a chain of ancient towns nestled in the Cantabrian Mountains. Late one morning, we pass through Covadonga and see the church where Andrés’s parents were married. Then we head up into the Picos de Europa national park. Even in winter, the day can be warm, almost balmy. But as we drive into the mist, the temperature dips toward freezing, dropping a degree a minute. Andrés lowers the window all the way. “I’m in Asturias,” he explains. “I have to smell the air.” We’re bound for crystalline lakes, an unexpected bit of Switzerland in Iberia, but Andrés’s rented Opel wavers on a frosted slope. We step out and contemplate the utter stillness as I dissuade him from trekking the final mile over the ice.

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