José Andrés and his daughters get a taste of Spain in new TV series

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You have to imagine that, on some level, growing up with José Andrés as your father was not always easy. The Spanish native navigates life with a sharklike assurance, always on the move, maneuvering from home to restaurant to conference to shooting location to disaster zone. His children, no doubt, have had to compete for the attention of a man who, at this point, is a father figure to much of the world, showing up with a plate of food wherever people are in need.

One of the saving graces of quarantine was the chance to see Andrés at home, spending quality time with his three daughters in a series of cooking videos that the chef posted to his social channels. Unbridled joy is not an emotion one encounters often in life, let alone during a pandemic, but I have to think it looks a lot like Andrés dancing and cooking in the kitchen with Carlota and Inés, singing off-key to Bastille’s “Pompeii,” as his daughters look simultaneously amused and embarrassed.

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The videos were nominally dedicated to home cooking, but what Andrés and his children were selling in those early days of the pandemic was hope, and optimism. The vids were, I’m loathe to say, infectious.

The interplay between the Spanish chef and his American-born daughters was so charming, in fact, that some enterprising producer clearly realized the family would be a smash in a limited TV series. More than two years later, here we are: “José Andrés and Family in Spain,” a six-part series produced by the London-based Nutopia in association with José Andrés Media, debuts Dec. 27 on Discovery Plus.

The premise of the series is simple. Andrés serves as tour guide for his daughters — Carlota, 23, Inés, 21, and Lucia, 18 — as they wander through the elder’s native country. The series leans on some established models: It features an engaging, semi-trusty chef/host, the kind perfected by Anthony Bourdain; it borrows the sweeping, painterly cinematography of “Chef’s Table”; and it maintains the single-country focus of “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy.”

But the series has a charisma all its own, too. It’s a protracted Take Your Daughters to Work Day, when your father just happens to be a famous chef — and one of the world’s biggest (non-cured) hams. I’d venture that there are only a handful of people who can tease Andrés without mercy, and three of them happen to be on this show.

When father takes Carlota and Inés (Lucia appears in later episodes after her school year winds down) to the historic La Boqueria market in Barcelona, the chef gushes over the vast spread of seafood glistening on ice. “This is like ‘Finding Nemo,’” Andrés shouts, with Homer-esque enthusiasm. “This is like being in an aquarium in your home, but you can eat it!”

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Inés smiles appreciatively, then offers her father some advice. “Just one life lesson,” she says. “Never talk about ‘Finding Nemo,’ and then about eating fish.”

“I thought that was brilliant!” Andrés counters.

Father and daughters cover a lot of turf in a short amount of time. They ride scooters and dine around Barcelona. Inés and Carlota learn to flamenco dance during the annual fair in Jerez de la Frontera. The family samples practically every pastry at El Riojano, the legendary Madrid bakery. The sisters compete in a paella competition during the Fallas festival in Valencia. Andrés and friends prepare a feast of traditional dishes from Asturias, their father’s birthplace. The young women learn that their dad’s time at El Bulli, the famed temple of molecular gastronomy, ended on a sour note.

During their travels, the siblings get in touch with their family history — and the foods that have formed their father’s well-developed palate. But just as important, the women serve as surrogates for viewers. We see Spain through their eyes. We learn as they learn. We watch as they experience. Their wonder becomes our wonder. I’m not sure how anyone could watch all six episodes without wanting to book an immediate flight to Spain, which is probably half the reason the series exists. Andrés is, and will always be, the country’s top salesman.

But Andrés seems to be a protective father, too, which may explain why we learn so little about his daughters over the course of the series. We find out Lucia doesn’t like cheese. We sense Inés is the adventurous one, willing to try her hand at just about any culinary task. We discover that Carlota loves surfing. But we learn next to nothing about the women outside the confines of this Spanish adventure. We have known for years that their father dreams big. What about Carlota, Inés and Lucia? What are their ambitions outside the long shadow of their father?

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Here and there, the daughters mention their mother, Patricia Fernandez de la Cruz, but she makes no appearance, which is a real loss. We see the affection and pride that father has for his daughters. But we have only hints about the women’s relationship with their mother, the very person who, as the siblings acknowledge in the Ron Howard documentary, “We Feed People,” is the glue that holds this family together.

Documentaries and reality TV, I must remind myself, are forms of mythmaking as much as they are media for truth-telling.

As heartwarming as it is to see Andrés kiss and hug and dote on his daughters, the interactions are, literally, made for TV. They are expressions designed for public consumption, in full view of cameras and a crew. I’m not suggesting the warmth is scripted or contrived, though such a thing is not uncommon for reality TV. What I am saying is that I hope father and daughters have moments together, far from the peering eye of a camera operator, that are every bit as sweet and playful as the ones captured in “José Andrés and Family in Spain.”

José Andrés and Family in Spain (six epsiodes) streams Tuesday on Discovery Plus.

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