Erik Kabik / ErikKabik.com
Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016 | 2 a.m.
It was a double whammy when celebrity chef Jose Andres stormed into town for his first-ever Dine-N-Dash dinner crawl. Only this rambunctious and enthusiastic culinary king could turn a dine-around into an extraordinary eating extravaganza at SLS Las Vegas with the help of Australian pal and Food Network star Curtis Stone.
But before the foodie festivities, Jose and his chef Mitchell Holmes unveiled last Friday their Chinese New Year specials for the Year of the Monkey. At China Poblano in the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, they served lotus chips and steamed oat noodles with Jose’s fresh lime salt “air” margarita.
Then a cured quail egg yolk with caviar and baby quail with green tea-infused whisky and egg white. They kept getting bigger and bolder with abalone and congee, braised pork belly and noodles and crispy snapper with Chinese flowering cabbage with dragon fruit- and lychee-infused jasmine tea syrup.
Dessert was black sesame flan with lychee sorbet, caramelized bananas and oolong tea syrup with pineapple. You could not have asked for better to say Happy New Year in Chinese: Kung Hei Fat Choy! Now we don’t often get the opportunity to sit down regularly with Jose here in Las Vegas when he’s relaxed, but I grabbed the opportunity:
So who is the insane person who said let’s marry Mexican food with Chinese food?
Well I can tell you that was not Jose Andres. I’m only a storyteller. I’m a guy who likes to learn and look out the window. If you go to a town in Mexico called Mexicali, you will see there was a whole bunch of Chinese people in the late 19th century, early 20th century. After they came back from California building the railroad, they landed in Mexico.
They also helped to build railroads and construction, and they didn’t want to go back to China, so they moved into the heart of Mexico, and they created Mexicali. There you go to a place that is restaurants of Mexicans who happen to be Chinese. Then you go to Puebla, and you learn that there is this beautiful woman who was a Chinese slave who married one of the rich guys in Puebla.
They say that she was beautiful and that she had this beautiful Chinese dress. The Mexican women began re-creating her dress instead of silk with a traditional cotton of Mexico and doing the vest with the traditional embroidery of Mexico. That dress today is called the China Poblano dress, which is the national dress in Puebla.
At the end, I didn’t invent it. It’s something that has happened in history. That Chinese and Mexican in some parts of Mexico, they had an interaction. What I did here was bring Mexico and China. Every dish is a mix.
Now if we went to China, would we find Mexican food in China?
Not yet. China Poblano is not my making. China Poblano is real. China Poblano just happened. I’m very lucky in life. I came up with the idea many years ago. My best friend of almost 23 years is a guy named Jorge Guajardo who became the youngest Mexican ambassador in China. How lucky you are that your 23-year-old friend becomes the youngest ambassador of Mexico in China.
When I’m doing the research for my Chinese things, I’m staying at the house of my Mexican friend. They like to collect art, they’re big collectors of Mexican folk art. There I am in their embassy, in their home, with Chinese paintings and Chinese furniture. It’s like a dream come true.
So much of the research for this, I really haven’t visited China. I visited Mexico, but much of it happened living in the house of my friend the ambassador of Mexico in China, which is like too good to be true.
Are there similarities between the two country’s cuisines?
The love for pork. Mexicans have tacos, Chinese have the pancakes for the duck. It’s like the same thing. You eat them with your hands. We can be talking about everything is different, we can be talking about everything is the same. Obviously, they like sauce to dip. Mexicans know everything is spicy, they have sauces and stuff on the side. Chinese have sauces and stuff on the side.
You control the heat, you control the quantity of soy, or you control the quantity of vinegar. When we talk about China, everybody talks about soy. I mean much of the dumplings that you see, they don’t send you soy, they send you the fruit vinegar. Nobody thinks about Chinese cooking and vinegar.
You find more dishes with fruit vinegar on the side than soy. Actually, when I ask for soy in some restaurants in Beijing, they scramble, “Like what?” So dumplings are always served with vinegar, never with soy.
Mexicans like Japanese cooking, but what happened in the last 25 years, China and Japan have had some rivalries because of wars and everything. People are more similar than we think. There are things in Japan that were heavily influenced by China, and there are things showing up in China having influence by Japan. Period.
In Mexico, it’s mole. What sauces do they use in China?
Mole is very unique, very special because you never see a sauce so rich in ingredients. To me the mole of China even is not the same. The XO sauce, the secret sauce, we call it dry. The dry shrimp, the dry scallops, it takes a long time to make. We make it very good. In Mexico, it’s the dry peppers that are toasted and the dry fruits.
In China, it’s the dry scallops and the dry shrimp. So it has nothing to do one with the other, but in a spirit they’re very similar. It’s preserving the goodness of the earth or preserving the goodness of the sea, and out of the deepness of those flavors makes sauces.
The climates of both countries are contradictory?
Not quite true. China is a huge country. You can go from the very north parts to the very tropical lands in the south sea of China. So in some parts, the China you and I know that most of majority of people know, yeah, but China is so big. Mexico as big as a country as it is, it’s less now.
If you said at the very beginning here’s Chinese and Mexican cuisine that we should marry, people would think that you were slightly mad, right?
Listen, the next cuisine I’m going to marry is Spanish and Filipino. It’s a story that needs to be told, it’s a story that people are unaware of, and it’s an important story of uniting the continents of far away and reuniting. In the same way Spain was so important in bringing the Latin American ingredients.
Spain I don’t think ever got enough credit enough to bring in the Asian ingredients. It’s not obvious in our cooking, nobody will disagree anymore that tempura was a Portuguese Spanish influence in Japan and in all Asia. … It’s one of the restaurants I want to do.”
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Jose, a James Beard Award-winning chef, hosted his first ever Dine-N-Dash at SLS alongside Curtis and mixologist Rob Floyd. Modeled after his annual Washington, D.C., restaurant crawl, guests enjoyed culinary offerings from all seven restaurants on property, as well as food-and-beverage stations throughout SLS.
VIP guests kicked off the event at Bazaar Casino during a Happy Hour with Jose and Curtis. After Happy Hour, Dine-N-Dash attendees witnessed the chefs go into action for a cooking demonstration at the Foundry, formerly Life nightclub, which celebrated its grand opening later the same evening with Awolnation.
In freewheeling fashion, Jose found it easier to slice his iberico ham and throw out paper-thin slices to guests. More than a thousand guests at the sold-out event benefiting Jose’s foundation and our Three Square food bank were given a taste of culinary options at SLS, including:
Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres: Oysters Gin & Tonic, Cotton Candy Foie Gras and Kobe & Caviar. Cleo: Wagyu Beef Kabob, Lamb Tagine and Clementina cocktail. Katsuya: A5 Miyazaki Wagyu Beef, Lobster & Truffle Chawan-Mushi and Burning Mandarin.
Ku Noodle by Jose Andres: Lo Mein, Five Spice Duck and Sake Punch. Northside Cafe: Al Pastor Tacos, Barbacoa Tacos and Paloma. Umami Burger, Beer Garden & Sports Book: Truffle Sliders, Cheesy Tater Tots and craft beer. And 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria: Assortment of pizzas and Birra Moretti.
Before the night ended, Awolnation delivered the inaugural performance at the Foundry, SLS’ new live-entertainment venue, with a high-energy set including “Knights of Shame” and “Sail.” Our thanks to Erik Kabik and Michael Kirschbaum for their photo gallery.
“It’s been a great success,” Jose summed up. “In fact, the whole day from start to finish has been wonderful. We’re definitely going to keep doing this every year from now on.”
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas dares to be different. From the hotel’s red reservations desks to fine art found throughout the resort, The Cosmopolitan’s signature style is helping to pave its own path on the Las Vegas Strip.
Upon entering the resort, you’re greeted by pillars of video boards playing video art by Digital Kitchen and David Rockwell Studio exclusively produced for The Cosmopolitan. Just beyond that, you’ll find all your favorite casino games on the resort’s 100,000-square-foot casino floor.
The Cosmopolitan’s rooms standout as the resort’s most unique feature. About 2,220 of The Cosmopolitan’s 2,995 rooms have 6-foot deep terraces that span the length of the room, a first at a modern Strip hotel. Other in-room amenities include soaking tubs, kitchenettes and quirky accessories like artsy coffee table books.
The dining experience at The Cosmopolitan isn’t something you’ll find at other Strip resorts, either. All of The Cosmopolitan’s 13 restaurateurs are new to the Las Vegas market. You’ll find American steakhouse fare in a modern setting at STK, top-notch sushi at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill and the freshest fish flown in from the Mediterranean daily at Estiatorio Milos.
Whether the sun is up or down, Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub is the place to find the party at The Cosmopolitan. The venue is a dayclub/nightclub, complete with a pool and cabanas outside and three different rooms with three different vibes inside.
If nightclubs aren’t your thing, you can grab a drink at one of The Cosmopolitan’s five other bars, like The Chandelier, which is encased in 2 million dripping crystals.