Chef José Andrés is a gamer, and he’s creating food for gamers at the new Esports Arena in Las Vegas
On a recent, rainy Thursday at the new Esports Arena at the Luxor casino in Las Vegas, celebrated Spanish chef José Andrés sits in a private room, sunken into a computer chair with stitching and padding fit for a race car driver. Every few seconds red and blue lights ping-pong off the walls and the ceiling.
“I’m a 48-year-old millennial,” says Andrés, just as music appropriate for a “Game of Thrones” battle starts to blast out of his iPhone X.
Andrés, a man who owns well-regarded restaurants around the world, sometimes teaches at Harvard, created the World Central Kitchen to help with global disaster relief, and was recently named Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, has just opened the “Fortnite” game, the one in which zombies attack after a giant storm kills most of the world’s population. Wearing a “we are all dreamers” T-shirt, jacket, jeans and scuffed sneakers, Andrés fits in with the rest of the crowd, who have come to celebrate the opening of the 30,000-square-foot video game arena.
“I love video games,” says Andrés, without looking up. “One moment you play one game, then the next you move to the next one. It never ends.”
When Andrés is not running his more than two-dozen restaurants around the world, feeding disaster victims all over the globe, working to support immigrant rights or making it on the list of Time magazine’s most influential people, he makes time to play video games.
“I play while I’m waiting for my Uber,” says the chef, who has enough games downloaded on his phone to keep him occupied while he waits for a lifetime of Uber drivers.
The arena is the site of Andrés’ latest restaurant project, a kitchen that will provide food for the hundreds of gamers expected to visit the arena daily. Instead of fancy tables, chairs and chandeliers, there’s a light fixture made of game controllers of days past. And the eating area is off the main room, which features stadium seating and a stage, lit with a giant screen that streams video game tournaments around the world.
The seating is flanked by long tables covered in computers and headsets where gamers can play games and watch other people play. In the back: more tables with computers and low ceilings lit by fluorescent lights covered in mesh. You can play the original “Pong,” soccer, “League of Legends,” “Big Buck Hunter” and just about any game you can imagine.
Two young men wearing dark hoodies, blue jeans and Bose headphones around their necks trade comments as a friend attempts to navigate a car in a shiny, futuristic world on the computer before them. In the room next to them, a man is “twitching.” In the gaming world, this is known as live-streaming yourself playing a video game to followers on the website Twitch.
Going from the gray sky outside to the dark arena is like walking into a post-apocalyptic world run by twentysomethings in sweatshirts, their spiky hair sticking out of their beanies. And they are all eating really, really well.
“If I were them, I would have called a millennial to do the food,” says Andrés with a laugh. But a lifelong love of video games and an ask from a good friend led him to the arena, designing food to fuel gamers.
“I think it’s because of the days when I was very young, I’d try to get 25 pesetas to play games at a bar in my little village by Barcelona,” says Andrés. “Any time we had a moment we would play.”
The gamers coming to the arena will be able to order Andrés’ fish and rice bowls topped with things like barbecued eel and tuna. If you’re looking for something to eat with your hands, Andrés has a couple of flatbreads and his “favorite,” a ham and manchego cheese sandwich. There’s mochi and ice cream sandwiches for dessert. And if you feel like sipping some gazpacho during that game of “Fortnite,” you can do that too. Andrés is, after all, the world’s most famous Spanish chef.
“It’s a fairly simple menu with things I like to eat when I’m playing at home,” says Andrés, who may adjust the menu based on feedback from the gamers. “When I play, even on the phone or computer, I want things I can eat with chopsticks. The idea is not to have a bunch of forks and knives.”
He glances down at his phone and opens the game “Arena of Valor,” an epic battle of creatures and assassins and DC comics characters played by multiple players around the world. He decides that because he can’t give it his full attention he’ll switch to “World of Tanks,” a multiplayer game dominated by combat vehicles.
Also on his phone right now is “Boom Beach,” a game Andrés plays with his three teenage daughters, as well as soccer and “Star Wars.” At home, he has a PlayStation, an original Xbox (“obsolete,” he says), and Nintendo.
“For me, once I get into something, I go crazy,“ says Andrés, who adds that he doesn’t actually have a special video game chair at home — but he’s thought about it. “It’s a sense of you should do everything so you understand the world you live in better.”
And right now, Andrés’ world is that of demons and dragons, princes and princesses, tanks and battleships.
“I hope people want to come for the food, but people are here for the gaming,” he says. “It’s just another reason to spend more time here.”
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