You, like us, are sick of reading about shitty men taking advantage of their positions of power. We’ve seen actors and their careers brought down. We’ve seen politicians and their careers brought down. Chefs, too, haven’t been immune—our list of those in the restaurant industry accused of sexual harassment and misconduct is, sadly, a running tally.
So it brings us a measure of joy to tell you about a chef who’s done more than good—not just for his customers, but for humanity. If you watched the Oscars, you may have seen him on stage; he unfurled a Puerto Rican flag during the performance by Common and Andra Day. He is chef Jose Andres, and the man is an American hero.
Jose Andres is an immigrant. The 48-year-old was born in Spain and trained in the avant garde school of Spanish gastronomy under Ferran Adria, the man behind what many considered the greatest restaurant in the world before it closed in 2011: elBulli.
Andres built much of his restaurant empire from his Washington, D.C.-area home base and expanding to nearly 30 locations, including in Los Angeles, Miami, and Las Vegas (two of the finest meals I had in Vegas were at his China Poblano and Jaleo restaurants). Within the restaurant industry, he’s one of the few with “celebrity chef”-status who actually owns serious culinary chops—his D.C. flagship restaurant minibar has garnered two Michelin stars, and that’s no small feat.
But Andres’ most significant contribution has been his work in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September, killing scores, destroying much of its agricultural and power infrastructure, and causing an estimated $90 billion in damages.
This is what makes Andres’ efforts remarkable: He showed up several days after Maria struck the island, found a kitchen and a few chefs, and started feeding people—not MRE’s, but hot meals. He enlisted fellow chefs and a crew of volunteers, and Andres was cooking for hundreds, then thousands, and eventually upward of 100,000 people a day. From The New York Times:
He has built a network of kitchens, supply chains and delivery services that as of Monday had served more than 2.2 million warm meals and sandwiches. No other single agency—not the Red Cross, the Salvation Army nor any government entity—has fed more people freshly cooked food since the hurricane, or done it in such a nurturing way.
That figure is well over 3 million hot meals to date.
It’s not just an opportunistic publicity play. Andres founded a nonprofit called World Central Kitchen after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, an organization that aims to fight poverty through culinary and vocational training in low-income countries. From a 60 Minutes profile of Andres in 2017, we learn that Andres has traveled to Haiti more than 25 times, supports an orphanage, and founded a training program for aspiring local chefs.
On top of that, Andres pulled out of a restaurant deal at a Trump property after the then-presidential candidate mocked Mexicans (the two parties settled in court)—and Andres went out to become an outspoken critic of the President.
Last month, Andres was named 2018 Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. Said the foundation’s executive vice president, Mitchell Davis: “[Andres] has demonstrated how, at the most difficult times, hot-cooked meals provide more than nutrition, they provide dignity.”
On Sunday, during Common and Andra Day’s Oscars performance of “Stand Up For Something” from the film Marshall, Andres shared the stage with nine other activists, including a teenager who protested the Dakota Access pipeline, a mother of a Sandy Hook Elementary victim, and the president of Planned Parenthood.
At the end of the performance, Andres unfurled the Puerto Rican flag as the Dolby Theatre audience rose to their feet in a standing ovation. “The message the flag sends is clear,” Andres told the Washington Post. “That these people have suffered a lot and that the American people still care about them.”