Michelin-starred chef and humanitarian José Andrés has made an impact on food in more ways than one. His latest book, We Fed An Island, details his time in Puerto Rico, where he sought to create community kitchens and serve as many meals to islanders as he could (Andrés eventually served over three million meals) after Hurricane Maria left the country in disrepair. On the eve of his book talk at Politics & Prose, Andrés chatted with us about his continued efforts to help Puerto Rico, receiving the James Beard Foundation's Humanitarian of Year Award, and his favorite hot spots in D.C. right now.
Hola José! What an honor to have Lin-Manuel Miranda write the forward for your new book We Fed An Island, how did that come about?
JOSÉ ANDRÉS: The forward is written together by Lin-Manuel and his father Luis Miranda, who is himself an incredible leader and activist. We first were in touch just over Twitter, Lin-Manuel tweeted in support of #ChefsForPuertoRico and the work that World Central Kitchen was doing in Puerto Rico. We became friends “offline”—we met in Puerto Rico, and when I was writing my book I asked them if they would consider writing the foreword. They are amazing people and supporters, so they said yes… and I am so honored!
What do you hope readers will takeaway from your relief book We Fed An Island?
JA: My hope is that everyone who is reading this book will understand one of my deepest beliefs, that food has the power to change the world. Hearing the stories of what the people of Puerto Rico did for the people of Puerto Rico will convince you that a hot plate of food is not just calories, it is hope for the future. This book can be a guide for others, an inspiration for a new way of thinking about disaster relief.
How does it feel to be named the Humanitarian of the Year from the James Beard Foundation awarded by your industry peers?
JA: Of course, this was an amazing feeling, but it was not about me, it was about we. We the people of the United States, of Puerto Rico, of the world. I did not accept the award on behalf of myself but in recognition of all of the humanitarians in the world who are working every single day to bring hope to the many.
Andrés served over three million meals in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
I know you were involved with relief efforts in Haiti years back which led to your volunteer work in Puerto Rico and other locations. What are your future plans for continued efforts in Puerto Rico? Guatemala?
JA: The hurricane season has just started back up in the Caribbean and the Pacific, so we must always be watching and prepared for the next disaster. This involves not just being ready on a moment’s notice to activate, to open kitchens and start cooking for those in need, but also helping to develop sustainable and smart solutions to build resiliency in the areas where we are working. In Puerto Rico, World Central Kitchen has moved from emergency relief mode into a new phase focused on recovery and resiliency. We are supporting local farms so that they can provide more fresh, local produce for the island. Did you know that before Hurricane Maria, the island imported 85 percent of its food and at the height of the crisis, it went up to 95 percent imported? There has been some improvement since then, but food insecurity is always real threat in Puerto Rico. As for Guatemala, we are continuing to support our community kitchen in Ceilan, which lies below the Fuego volcano and lost its crops in the eruption. The kitchen is still serving hundreds of meals each day.
What are a few of your favorite places in D.C.?
JA: If you know me, you know how much I love seafood, and especially crabs… my favorite spot is the Bethesda Crab House, which is close to my home just outside of DC. A new restaurant that I recently enjoyed is Himitsu, the chef Kevin Tien and beverage director Carlie Steiner used to work at a few of my restaurants, so it was exciting to see what they are now doing. And I am looking forward to going to the new D.C. United Stadium—I love watching fútbol live and my culinary team is very excited to be serving Mexican street food and Spanish sandwiches at the stadium!
Photography by: Photography courtesy Ryan Forbes