José Andrés oversees the test kitchen, with (left to right) Zaytinya chef Michael Costa, Oyamel sous chef Christian Irabien, and Jaleo DC chef Paul Yeck; and ThinkFood Group chefs Andrew Nelson, Robyn Stern and Ruben Garcia.
Staff members work around central desks in the open space.
Chefs test a recipe for gambas al ajillo.
Cookbooks are in easy reach of the test kitchen.

Culinary Think Tank

José Andrés and his team go interactive in their new corporate headquarters

From the street, the nondescript Penn Quarter office building offers no clue that a trip to the sixth floor will land you in the nerve center of José Andres’s ThinkFoodGroup. This growing restaurant empire encompasses Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel and the newly renovated Minibar in the DC area, plus eateries in Miami, L.A., Las Vegas and Puerto Rico. Additionally, Andrés keeps his plate full with cooking shows in the U.S. and his native Spain, a foundation to combat hunger, a teaching stint at George Washington University and a consulting gig on NBC’s new thriller, Hannibal.

With so much activity, it’s no wonder that he and his team need a “central command” environment so they can manage operations. After outgrowing their former office, they turned to DC architect Eric Gronning to help them create a collaborative, decidedly un-corporate culture in their corporate headquarters. “They needed a space that changes as their needs do,” says Gronning, who recently redesigned the DC Jaleo. “They frequently change menus around the world and things need to be done on the fly.”

First, they found the perfect site for the new office in a building near three of ThinkFoodGroup’s busiest restaurants. Gronning gutted the interiors of what was previously a two-story architecture studio, retaining only the skylights in his new design. The main floor encompasses a test kitchen, open workspaces and glass-enclosed conference rooms. The only conventional walls house human resources and accounting offices on the upper floor, where a living wall of plants and herbs, installed by Rolling Greens, flourishes.

In the completed plan, Andrés, CEO Rob Wilder and 16 staff members work on laptops around a horseshoe of communal desks, scribble menu concepts on floor-to-ceiling sliding white boards and review PowerPoint presentations on a large flat-screen monitor. Meanwhile, a team of chefs perfects recipes in the test kitchen. This sleek, efficient space celebrates Spanish design and industry with Fagor appliances, Silestone countertops and Porcelanosa floors. At their own freestanding islands, “cocktail innovator” Juan Coronado invents drinks for Mi Casa at Puerto Rico’s Dorado Beach—a Ritz-Carlton Reserve—and wine director Lucas Paya pours samples of new Spanish wines.

The open approach, says Andrés, is working. “Before, I would go days if not weeks without seeing some people because they were behind doors or walls. Now I have eye contact with everybody.

“The other good thing about it,” he continues, “is if I take out the tables, put a soccer game on TV and invite my friends over, we are the happiest people in the world.”

Photographer Michael Ventura is based in Silver Spring, Maryland.

ARCHITECTURE: ERIC GRONNING, Gronning Architects, Washington, DC. INTERIOR DESIGN: VIOLETA FIORINO SCHWARTZ, Silver Spring, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: MAIZEL CONSTRUCTION, Bladensburg, Maryland.

Jaleo’s Gambas al Ajillo (Sautéed shrimp with Garlic and Guindilla Pepper)

5 Servings

Sautéed Shrimp:

1 lb. Shrimp, peeled and deveined, 31/35 or your preferred size

¼ cup Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled

5 Arbol chiles

5 Tablespoons brandy

5 Tablespoons lemon Juice

½ cup Brava sauce (Recipe Below)

Kosher salt to taste

Thinly slice garlic cloves with a knife, mandolin or slicer and set aside. In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it begins to fry. Add the Arbol chile and cook for 1 minute. Turn the heat up to high and add the shrimp. When the shrimp starts to change color, add the brandy, lemon juice and Brava sauce and stir to combine. Remove from the heat, season with salt and serve.

 Brava Sauce:

2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil

1 ounce garlic, peeled and sliced

2 Arbol chiles

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons Spanish sherry vinegar

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

2 pounds whole canned tomatoes (Puréed)

1 tablespoon Spanish sweet pimenton

Kosher salt to taste

In a medium-size pot over medium heat add the oil, garlic and Arbol chile and sauté slowly until they start to brown. Add the sugar and stir until it melts. Add the vinegar and tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the tomato purée and simmer until almost dry. Add the pimenton and adjust seasoning with salt if necessary. Strain through a sieve and reserve for later use.

To Serve:

2 Tablespoons chopped Parsley. Stack the shrimp into 5 shallow bowls, garnish with the parsley and serve.