The Los Angeles Times Food Bowl Kicks Off in Conversation With Chef José Andrés

Talking with José Andrés, LA Kitchen’s Robert Egger, and artist Jim Denevan

Chef José Andrés

Los Angeles is a food mecca where you can get tastes of Armenia, Tokyo, Korea, and Mexico all within 10 miles. The LA Times is celebrating that diversity with its second annual Food Bowl festival, 31 days of food, drink, and sustainability beginning May 1. What drives this massive event is the passion of those involved to create a community that believes in the education of food and the importance it has on the entire world.

Opening night starts with a conversation about how we can change the world through the power of food. Led by James Beard Humanitarian Award-winner José Andrés, the event, officially called
"The Power of Food" and held at the landmark Wiltern Theater, will also feature the president and founder of the LA Kitchen, Robert Egger; actress Zooey Deschanel; activist Ron Finley; and L.A. Times food critic Jonathan Gold, among others, and dinner by LA Kitchen is included in the ticket price. The month-long Food Bowl will feature a cocktail week, a night market, a test kitchen event, farm-to-table conversations, food tours, restaurant popups, parties, and more.

“We want people to see that the power of food can affect people's lives, can help them gain skills, that it has a place and a role to play. The sous chefs we've chosen are up-and-coming, but each has a story of how food changed their lives,” says Egger.

Chef-artist Jim Denevan will end the festival with the highly anticipated Outstanding in the Field installation. This cowboy-hat-wearing chef creates temporary landscape art pieces, using earth, sand, and water. These large-scale works are designed to disappear.

The Daily Meal: You have quite the reputation for being a humanitarian. Does your opening night event "The Power of Food" have anything to do with your recent efforts to feed the people in Puerto Rico?
José Andrés: Yes, it is about Puerto Rico, but it started long before – I have always believed that food has the power to change the world. Food is powerful on so many levels – for telling stories, for connecting people, for keeping us alive – that we all must think about its role in our lives. Food can be in some ways a problem in our world – between hunger and obesity, contributing to climate change – but it is more importantly an amazing opportunity for making the world a better place through smart solutions. As we saw in Puerto Rico, starting on day one when we landed it was so important to just start cooking and feeding people. We saw the most incredible things when we were there. More than 20,000 volunteers came out to help, and we were able to put people to work to put money back into the economy, and the troops and officers who offered to distribute food throughout the island, and much more. All of this filled me with so much hope. This is the power of food.

What do you want people to take away from your event? Is there a food checklist of items with a long shelf life that people should keep stored in the event of a life-changing emergency?
I want people to understand a few very simple ideas about emergency situations. In an emergency, we don’t always have time to plan. We must learn to act and to not be intimidated by big problems. Many times, the big problems have very simple solutions, and instead of meeting over and over again to discuss the solutions, we must just start working. Small answers at first – there is no need to plan for one month or one week ahead. We must plan for now. That way, big problems don’t look so big. To me, it is not exactly about what you have on your shelf or in your pantry, it is about how you use your resources, what you have on hand, to help the people around you. If you are a cook, you cook for people; if you are good at transportation and logistics, you use those skills. If you have enough water or mayonnaise or fruit, you take advantage of the resources you have and you share them with the people who need them most. Like the two little girls in the town of Loíza who insisted that everyone else in line be served before they ate their meal – it is this attitude that will get us through future emergencies.

What attracted you to be a part of the second annual Food Bowl?
One of my best friends, Robert Egger, came to this city to start LA Kitchen a few years ago, and I would do everything I can to support his work. The Food Bowl is a great way to show off what they are doing in Los Angeles – thank you to Jonathan Gold and the LA Times for supporting their mission.

Why was it important for LA Kitchen to be a part of the Food Bowl?
Robert Egger:
Just like we do every day at LA Kitchen, we wanted to shake things up. We aren't your average food charity, so we wanted to help kickoff this month of events with a rebellious party that would show how activists like Ron, actors like Zooey, writers like Jonathan, and former nightclub managers like me can join with chefs to celebrate the flavors of our city, and use them to open the door even wider and invite more and more people to the feast that is LA.

Jim Denevan Portrait by Ilana Freddye

Ilana Freddye

Jim Denevan

How your art inspire you as a chef and vice versa?
Jim Denevan: Art and cooking for me both have their seasons. Creating something along the beach depends on the time of year and how the conditions might be. When cooking, we write menus from what's available that month or that week. Whether it's with art or food, I'm living in the moment and creativity is spontaneous.

Will we have the opportunity to see your temporary land art incorporated into the events?
Yes! At Manhattan Beach, the table will be surrounded by a giant composition. I also plan to do something at Weiser Family Farm. The farmer, Alex Weiser, is a big fan of my work, and I've actually used his water to make a giant alien composition in the desert, which was for the promotion of a Hollywood movie and evaporated over time. I'm particularly excited about doing something with chef Virgilio since he's from Peru, and Peru for me is the site of the world's most incredible land art, The Nazca Lines.


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Where is the inspiration coming from for the upcoming Outstanding in the Field event and what can we expect to see and taste?
The inspiration is coming from what's grown, fished, and harvested in Southern California. What's available and what's unavailable. There will be a focus on sustainable seafood, foraged ingredients and native plants. It's also important to note that this is a representation of a cultural moment of what chefs and farmers are interested in. Considering that it's March and the events are in May, it's our policy that when it comes to the menu and the creativity in the field, the menus are not written yet. We will only know in May...

Get your tickets now for these and other events and find out more about how else José Andrés advocates for food.