José Andrés officially opened his newest restaurant, Jaleo, at Disney Springs Thursday with a closed door reception for invited media and guests.
The Disney Springs Jaleo, which occupies a vastly refurbished building that once held Wolfgang Puck Cafe, is the fifth and largest for Andrés’ Washington, D.C., based ThinkFoodGroup. The building also has a dedicated corner for Pepe, a fast food restaurant based on Andrés’ food truck.
A highlight of the open kitchen is a wood-fired paella pit for cooking one of the signature dishes.
While invited guests were beginning to arrive inside the restaurant, Andrés sat down with a group of five media representatives, including three from Spanish language outlets. We sat on the patio overlooking the lagoon as the chef, still in a Patagonia quilted jacket, talked about opening the restaurant.
I asked him if there is a point where a chef and restaurateur loses control over what goes on at his properties because there are too many of them — his company owns and operates 15 brands. He said there was, but the key was having people he can trust at each location. He said that he is often asked, “Who cooks when you’re not here?” His reply: “The same person who cooks when I’m here.”
He told us that having a restaurant at Disney has been a dream of his ever since he first visited Epcot and saw that Paul Bocuse had a restaurant there. He said that Spain should be represented. “Spain is meant to have a bigger presence in Florida,” he said. “Spain arrived [to Florida] before anyone else in Europe.”
Here’s a video from the opening.
Andrés seemed tired and weary, but when he was asked about some of the foods he is presenting on the menu, he became animated and smiling as he recounted a story about his mother’s croquetas. He said that his mother would make the bechamel and put it in the refrigerator overnight. At some point, he and his brothers would sneak to the refrigerator, one by one, and take a fingerful of the sauce, then tried to smooth it over so their mother wouldn’t know. “It looked like a war zone in the morning,” he said laughing.
I asked him about all the press he’s been receiving over the past year — he was named Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation; profiled on “60 Minutes”; and nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to feed victims of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico through his nonprofit World Cares Kitchen project. (He also fed furloughed federal workers during the partial government shutdown and is sending teams to Venezuela and flood-ravaged Nebraska.)
“I just try to be a good husband, a good father, the best cook I can, the best chef, and I’m very lucky that I am in control of my destiny in that I own my company.”
Inside, Andrés changed into his chef jacket and stood on the grand staircase to welcome everyone to his new restaurant. Then he wandered about and chatted with guests, including two neighboring restaurateurs, Art Smith (Homecomin’) and Robert Earl (Planet Hollywood).
Initially, Jaleo (say "hah-LAY-oh") will be open only for dinner (Pepe is open all day). Lunch hours will be added later.