It’s safe to say America is having a pretty rough year. Between the crass political follies, the generally poisonous cultural climate, and the natural disasters that seem to follow one after another, it’s hard to believe anyone can even summon the energy to start a riot over a discontinued chicken nugget sauce that was mentioned in a cartoon — but somehow people found a way to do just that. This is the world we live in now.
In such dark and stupid times, it’s comforting to imagine there might be an impossibly perfect comic book hero somewhere out there, a versatile, all-action do-gooder who at any given moment might be teaching a class at Harvard, or saving a man from choking at a basketball game, or feeding a preposterously large paella to hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico, pausing between gallant deeds only long enough to deliver the perfect clever one-liner.
Fortunately for those of us who follow the culinary world, that hero does exist: His name is José Andrés.
While it would be a stretch to call Andrés a mild-mannered chef by day — the wildly successful Spanish-American restaurateur oversees an expansive dining empire that spans the continent, after all — he’s justifiably proud of how he spends his free time: as an educator, a human rights activist and humanitarian, a prominent advocate for nutrition and ecological sustainability, and a tireless proponent of the idea that food can be a force for good. He also seems to simply have a knack for turning up at the right place at the right time to lend a helping hand or just flash a roguish grin.
We at The Daily Meal have been fans of Andrés’ food, his sense of humor, and his charitable work for a long while, of course. But it wasn’t until we stepped back to consider all of his larger-than-life feats of derring-do over the past several years that we fully realized: José Andrés is the hero we need right now.
Andrés would probably tell you that his favorite work at this point is through World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit organization he founded in 2012. The D.C.-based organization operates around the world in pursuit of “smart solutions to hunger and poverty.” World Central Kitchen works with local governments, charities, and chefs to improve access to food, and Andrés has leveraged his culinary cachet to bring other heavyweights like Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, Tom Colicchio, Carla Hall, Spike Mendelsohn, and Andrew Zimmern on board to help.
While World Central Kitchen works toward long-term solutions, Andrés has also been vocal in demanding emergency assistance for areas affected by natural disasters. After working to help earthquake survivors in Mexico City and flood victims in Houston, the chef turned up the volume in a series of posts on Twitter demanding concerted action from the federal government to help its citizens after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. Andrés then took action himself, recruiting 150 prominent restaurants to donate proceeds toward relief efforts on World Food Day.
Just as he quickly appeared in person in Mexico City and Houston, Andrés personally hit the ground in Puerto Rico just days after the hurricane to coordinate relief efforts through World Central Kitchen. The chef and his team have delivered fuel, water, and, of course, food to those in need of aid.
Andrés’ efforts led The Washington Post to call him “the face of American disaster relief” in Puerto Rico — perhaps a telling statement, considering FEMA officials and even the president have also visited the island to… pass out paper towels. World Central Kitchen’s efforts have actually expanded since the initial phase, and they’ve now served over one million free meals — including four 1,500-serving paellas on October 1.
Several years ago Andrés and the World Central Kitchen team launched a seafood restaurant in Haiti called Pwason Beni, whose proceeds are dedicated to supporting a nearby orphanage. "Pwason Beni is one of my favorite projects in Haiti,” Andrés told The Daily Meal in 2015. “It’s actual proof of how food can lead to sustainable solutions and create a new path in life for so many people.”
In 2015, Andrés popped up out of the blue to deliver the smoothest Heimlich maneuver of all time. A D.C. man started choking on a bratwurst at a Washington Wizards game, and before he even had time to signal for help, a stranger turned the man around and dislodged the obstruction with one deft thrust. Only after the mysterious hero quietly walked away (like Batman!) did the man realize it had been the renowned chef who saved his life.
As an naturalized citizen himself, the Spanish-American chef was quick to criticize anti-immigrant remarks by then-candidate Donald Trump that many voters considered cruel and inappropriate — Andrés insisted that “every human being deserves respect, regardless of immigration status.” He later called Trump a “clever maniac” and defended his immigrant colleagues in the restaurant industry, asking: “Who is going to be feeding America if we kick everybody who is feeding America out?”
Andrés did more than just tweet his displeasure at the presidential hopeful — he withdrew from a high-dollar contract to operate a restaurant at Washington’s Trump International Hotel (as did Geoffrey Zakarian). The decision drew immediate threats from the Trump legal team and set off a years-long battle that inspired an unaffiliated IndieGogo campaign to pay Andrés’ legal fees, an $8 million countersuit by Andrés, and even a peace offer from the chef along with a suggestion that both parties donate to a military veterans organization. (Andrés actually served in the Spanish navy as a young man; Trump characteristically declined the overture.) The suit was finally settled earlier this year.
Though his legal battle with the president was serious business, immediately after the lawsuit was settled MC Andrés showed he could still have a little fun by absolutely eviscerating Trump in a furious dis track set to a hip-hop beat.
Ok, so it wasn’t actually all that savage. But it was timely — and consistent with what has been Andrés’ position throughout the conflict, calling upon the president to take care of “every single person who works hard under the American sky.” It was also, despite the gravity of the issue, hilarious.
MC Andrés has earned at least one shout-out from a prominent hip-hop artist — but not for his vocal work. Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda sent the chef a personal rhymed message in appreciation for World Central Kitchen’s work in Puerto Rico.
Andrés has also been a consistent advocate for sustainable agriculture and healthy food. He gave a passionate keynote speech at the 2014 Roots Conference at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Ohio, quoting the ur-critic Brillat-Savarin — “the destiny of nations depends upon the manner in which they feed themselves” — and calling upon the participants to think about “what the power of food is to change things for good.”
And while Andrés is no vegetarian — his restaurants serve some absolutely magnificent meats — he’s a staunch advocate of adding more plant-based foods to diets worldwide.
In 2015, Andrés opened Beefsteak on the campus of D.C.’s George Washington University (where he also teaches classes) — but the meaty name, a nod to a variety of tomato, is playfully tongue-in-cheek. The menu focuses not on indulgent slabs of flesh but on healthy, vegetable-centered dishes, with some hearty options under $5.
Not content to feed the hungry or save the environment, Andrés has also offered his support to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which helps to promote healthier cooking practices and fight household air pollution.
We are proud to count Andrés as a member of The Daily Meal Council, a loose consortium of some of the best culinary thinkers on the planet. Andrés clearly qualifies: He has taught classes at Harvard and George Washington (delivering the commencement address at the latter in 2014), has served as the dean of Spanish studies at the International Culinary Center, and has earned high honors from the governments of both Spain and the United States — and that’s without mentioning his contributions to books, magazines, and television or his humanitarian and advocacy work.
We’ve always been big fans. He even stopped by our offices in 2015 to teach us how to use our kitchen to make a very unusual rendition of Philly cheesesteak.
Earlier this year, Andrés announced plans to open a massive food hall in New York City’s Hudson Yards to highlight the joys of Spanish cuisine, immediately drawing comparisons to the immensely popular Eataly. Andrés’ friend and former mentor Ferran Adrià is reportedly on board.
In April 2016, Andrés announced via Twitter that he would be joining Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as an advisor on “immigration, walls, and tourism.”
One look at Andrés’ crooked grin is enough to give you the idea that, despite the respect he enjoys from all corners of the culinary world, the man is a total goofball — the kind of guy who might try to snuggle with a stingray or submit a scribbled self-portrait in place of an ingredient list at a professional conference.
Though he was born and raised in Spain, Andrés proudly became a U.S. citizen in 2013. And what an American he’s been! He’s served the U.S. State Department as a culinary ambassador since the American Chef Corps’ inception, and in 2016, he was asked to join President Obama on his historic visit to Cuba. Later that year, the National Endowment for the Arts Committee honored the chef with a National Humanities Award, which is bestowed upon U.S. citizens who “better our understanding of ourselves, our history, and our culture.”
That reminds us: Andrés wasn't awarded the National Humanities Award for feeding the hungry or saving the planet — he earned it by being a culinary whiz.
After apprenticing with Ferran Adrià at Spain's legendary elBulli, Andrés moved to the United States in 1991. Since firmly establishing his reputation with Jaleo in Washington, D.C., Andrés has earned praise for pursuing innovative ideas and has been credited with popularizing Spanish cuisine in the U.S. He has successfully launched a slew of restaurants that now reach from D.C. to Miami to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Mexico City.
He owns James Beard Awards, Michelin stars, and Bib Gourmands, and his culinary gravitas is such that he has directly worked with (or clashed with) the past two U.S. presidents. He's a persistent presence in television, social media, and print, even being named GQ magazine's Man of the Year in 2009. The Spaniard has managed to dish Peruvian cuisine at China Chilcano, master Mediterranean mezze at Zaytinya, and establish one of the best Mexican restaurants in the U.S. at Oyamel. He even beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef.
And that's just his mild-mannered day job — he makes most of his superhero moves off the clock. Of course, many of Andrés’ peers are less like the superspy 007 and more like the gadgetmaster Q — learn about 10 of the wildest secret weapons ever created by molecular gastronomy.