“I’m trying to go under the radar.”
Those are not words one expects from Jose Andres. Nothing about this chef — his personality, his philanthropy, his politics and especially his food — has ever had a stealth quality. This is a man who imparts flavor to air, deconstructs culinary staples and serves foie gras segments on sticks, ensconced in pillows of cotton candy. His cuisine is entertainment of the highest order.
Yet at Luxor’s new Esports Arena Las Vegas, which opened to the public last week, Andres describes the menu he’s created for gamers and spectators as “support.”
“There’s no fireworks,” he says. “There’s no time for fireworks. You don’t want to impress anybody. But you want to make sure people say: ‘This is elegant. This is tasty. And I can keep playing.’ ”
Andres was asked to create the menu by his friend Adam Pliska, president of the World Poker Tour, an advisor to Esports Arena and a frequent diner at Bazaar in Los Angeles.
“My first reaction was ‘Hire a millennial,’ ” he recalls. “Or anybody. There’s plenty of good chefs here in Vegas. They don’t have to be known.”
He eventually decided the arena would be a good fit for his Las Vegas restaurant collection, which includes Bazaar Meat, China Poblano, Jaleo and e by Jose Andres. And he’s hoping his involvement will help counter the stereotypes about gamers’ diets.
“Everybody says that these kids don’t eat very healthy, but I don’t think that’s true. Probably some of them are (even) vegetarian.”
So he’s shunned junk food in favor of quality items, and paid attention to meat-free options. The only fried items are found in katsu-style rice bowls, a fried chicken sandwich and a smattering of tempura flakes added to sushi rolls for texture. Side dishes are limited to seasonal fruits or fresh vegetables.
Andres also made sure to keep options simple and easy to enjoy during brief breaks in gaming action. The menu is heavy on finger foods such as flatbreads, sandwiches and sushi rolls. Even a gazpacho is described as “drinkable,” and ice cream comes wrapped in Japanese mochi. Most of the dishes that do require utensils (primarily three varieties of rice bowls with assorted proteins) are compatible with chopsticks.
Andres has stuck with an assortment of familiar and approachable dishes — a notable shift by a man known to relish surprises.
“Were we’re not trying to break any (new ground),” he says. “Here, the important thing is the games and the gamers. These kids are superstars in their own world.”
Chef and gamer
“I’ve been playing all my life,” the 48-year-old Jose Andres says of his gaming experience. “I remember when I was 7 or 8 … we would look for money to get 25 pesetas to play Donkey Kong and all those games.”
By his early teens, he was programming his own simple games in BASIC. Today, he enjoys playing online, but doesn’t have the time for marathon sessions.
“I like, for example, World of Tanks,” he notes. “Arena of Valor, I’m getting hooked with that. But I like ‘Tanks’ because it’s simple, it’s quick. Basic seven minutes. Those games are quick and brutal.”
Andres doesn’t follow pro gaming closely enough to know any superstars’ names, but he figures there’d be a potential future advantage to getting to know some players he meets at the Luxor.
“If you watch (the film) “Pacific Rim,” this is the closest thing we’re going to have to “Pacific Rim.” Who knows if one day some of these guys are going to save us from a Martian attack.”