Merrill Shindler - November 2013
Food Arts presents the November 2013 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Jean-Pierre Etcheberrigaray—a hospitality industry visionary who, as vice president of food & beverage in the Americas for the InterContinental Hotels Group, has turned the many properties he oversees into culinary destinations, thanks to an endless flow of innovative ideas for bars and restaurants such as Sushi-Teq, RumBa Bar, Luce, Bar 888, XO, E-Host, Sarah B. Bar, and the World Class Beverage Program.
Under his aegis, chain hotel dining has gone from trough to triumph, from fodder to fun, from good-enough to better-than-expected-by-far. Who else would have imagined that sushi and Tequila would make a winning combination? JP (as he’s known to just about everyone) oversees the f&b operations and strategic planning for the InterContinental and Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts, along with Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Hotel Indigo.
It’s a career that began in the Basque region of Spain, where he grew up in a family with a fierce love of cooking and eating—and which gave JP both linguistic and culinary proficiency in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and English—along with Euskara, the language of the Basques. “I am Basque,” says JP, with pride. “Absolutely. Growing up Basque, I learned that the best food is simple, but delicious. That food is for both fueling your body and fueling your soul. It’s what I’ve tried to do throughout my career.”
He has dedicated himself to making dining in his hotels an event. “Nobody wants to eat alone in their room. Sometimes, you have to. But after a long day of business, most people would like to be with other people. They want to see and be seen. It’s why we’ve tried to introduce communal tables at many of our properties—so the solo traveler can dine with others. I learned growing up that dining is a group experience, something to share. If you’re seated at the chef’s table with others, the food tastes that much better.”
And he has also tried to break free of the bonds of conventional dining. “I see the wave of the future as adventure. Tasting new things. Coming home with an appreciation of a new flavor, a new dish. When I came up with the idea of opening a grappa bar at the InterContinental in San Francisco, no one thought it would work. No one thought Americans would drink grappa, that it’s too strong, too foreign. Now, we have the number one grappa bar in America, a destination for those who have a newfound appreciation of a regional drink.”
To every project, JP brings the mix of passion and hard work that’s a Basque hallmark. “We are sheepherders,” he says. “We work for weeks, months, at a time. And when we eat and drink, we do it with our hearts. I would love to put some of the dishes of my childhood on our menus. Perhaps someday.”
A goal for the near future is to improve the way Americans eat breakfast at hotels. “In Europe, hotel breakfasts are an event, big buffets with foods of the region, local cheeses, meats, seafood. In America, breakfast is eaten quickly. I think people are looking for a comfort zone at breakfast, the same thing every time. I would like to change that. More adventure, more flavor. Breakfast can be the best meal of the whole day.”