By Linda Mensinga
Spanish cuisine icon, Chef Jose Andres, with the help of Chef Jorge Chicas, has created a true bazaar of flavor, experience and luxurious fun at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.
“Jose’s style is a little different from what people expect,” said Chef de Cuisine Jorge Chicas about the food at Bazaar. “It’s not a protein, starch and veg. It might be seared snapper with Vera Cruz sauce and just a few tortilla chips. We have to teach people how to eat. But we’ve made the move and people are getting it.”
Chef Jorge collaborates with Chef Jose Andres to create traditional and modern tapas for the Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills with the help of Marcel Vigneron from Top Chef Season 3, as sous chef. Small portions mean more chances to try more of his amazing, captivating dishes. One dish on Bazaar’s menu, Ottoman Carrot Fritters, has its origins in Turkey (see photo/recipe). Chef Jose is noted for bringing Spanish food to Washington, DC and now owns seven restaurants in the capitol, including Zaytinya, where Chef Jorge started working for him. Chef Jorge moved with his family from El Salvador to Washington, DC when he was 13. He worked in various kitchens in the area and was executive chef/partner in Capital Restaurant Concepts before joining Jose Andres.
The hotel itself is a playful mix of styles and decoration. Near the light-filled lobby is a dark retail area with glass-enclosed items for sale such as a model of the Titanic, signature china, and T-shirts. Nearby is the patisserie with exquisite sweets and desserts. The overall effect of the lobby/retail area is a bit overwhelming and a somewhat dark version of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.
The restaurant is divided into Blanca (contemporary) and Rojo (traditional). Blanca has white cushy chairs and banquets while Rojo diners sit on black benches and tables with chalkboard-like reproductions of Picasso drawings. Chef Jorge explained that all the tapas are available in both restaurants.
“I worked with Jose in Washington and Las Vegas doing culinary but also F&B work preparing a budget for small wares and purchasing china and other kitchen utensils,” said Chef Jorge. He did menu costing and worked with Phillipe Stark on the SLS in Los Angeles. For a while he traveled back and forth, but has now settled in the area with his wife and four children.
“Jose visits once a month and stays three or four days to see how things are going,” said Jorge. “The menu may get changed. When he comes he may have a vision or some new ingredient from somewhere.” The chef de cuisine and his cooks then spend some time working out some dishes that Chef Jose may or may not approve on his next visit.
“We spent time in Mexico and Italy. You can pick up new ideas from everywhere,” Jorge said. Jose has taken him on trips to Lebanon and Turkey, as well as Spain, of course. “You learn over time what goes with what and develop a good palate.”
Jorge works a six-day week with long hours and clearly enjoys the challenge of working at a top-notch luxury property. “The kids know the routine, when an opening happens they don’t see me as much,” he said. He has to be at work to make sure everything runs smoothly and consistently.
In the original concept, SLS stood for Starwood Luxury Services, but as the hotel has evolved SLS embodies many meanings describing the hotel and therefore does not stand for anything specific. For example: “something lovely started,” “small luxurious sweets” or “soothing lonely starlets”. “Sip liquids slowly” is found on coffee cups and “sparing land’s supplies” on hotel environmental policies. “Somebody loves slogans,” wrote Fred A. Bernstein in his New York Times review Check In/Check Out.