Photo Credit: Screenshot from The Richmond Forum; Chef José Andrés, speaking to us from Honduras, where he and his team were feeding people after the Hurricanes Eta and Iota.
The first offering of the Richmond Forum‘s 2020-21 season was this past weekend. Because of COVID, it was virtual. Dave and I would miss our traditional pizza before the show, and talks with our friends at the Altria Theater, but comfy at home was not a bad option either.
We didn’t know this evening’s speaker, José Andrés, but with all who come to the stage of the Richmond Forum, we knew we would come away with a larger sense of the world and our part in it.
Photo Credit: José Andrés, World Central Kitchen, Bahamas, 2019
Chef José Andrés is an extraordinary person who challenges us to move that descriptor into the ordinary column. Here’s a brief intro to this amazing man – just a bit of his extensive bio from his website: “José Andrés is an internationally-recognized culinary innovator, New York Times bestselling author, educator, television personality, humanitarian, and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup. A pioneer of Spanish tapas in the United States, he is also known for his groundbreaking avant-garde cuisine and his award-winning group of more than 30 restaurants located throughout the country and beyond, ranging in a variety of culinary experiences from a food truck to his multi-location vegetable-focused fast casual Beefsteak, to world-class tasting menus…As a naturalized citizen originally from Spain, Andrés has been a tireless advocate for immigration reform. In 2010, Andrés formed World Central Kitchen, a non-profit that provides smart solutions to end hunger and poverty by using the power of food to empower communities and strengthen economies. Notably, his team served over 3.6 million meals to the people of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.”
Photo Credit: José Andrés, World Central Kitchen – 2019 in Review
This celebrity chef who owns restaurants all over the US, writes cookbooks, and entertains us with his TV appearances. However, you look at his face and see his heart. He says, “I am a cook. I feed the few, but I love to feed the many”.
He grew up in Spain with parents who were nurses. At times, one parent heading to work, would bring their four sons to the emergency room to exchange with the parent leaving work. His parents also loved to cook for the family and for friends and neighbors. He tells the story of his father making a huge pan of paella. When his mother asked his father what if too many people come and there is not enough food. “We just add some more rice”.
Andrés credits his father with an early love and grasp of cooking. His father would tell him “Learn your fire. Control your fire. Master your fire. Then you will be able to cook anything you want.” He took that cooking lesson and applied to his life.
As a young man, he dreamed of coming to America, of being a part of “We the People”. When he finally was able to immigrate to the US, he wasted no time in beginning work in a restaurant. He continued growing and learning…and before long, teaching others himself. Not just about cooking itself but what food brings to all of life.
“Respect people. Teach them to work. Give them a plate of food.”
He feels very strongly about giving back (especially to his beloved America) as well as giving to all who are suffering. “There’s nothing more nurturing than a plate of hot food.”
After responding to the Haiti earthquake in 2010, his vision to “feed the many” came to fruition with the World Central Kitchen. Andres took his ability to cook and his experience in leading and mentoring staff in his restaurants and applied it in the worst of situations. Through this non-profit, he and his teams would be “boots on the ground” after earthquakes,wildfires, wars, flooding, hurricanes, and other disasters. They came and found a kitchen and bought local food. They listened and learned. They mobilized others to help, and thousands upon thousands were fed.
[We sat mesmerized at this man. This immigrant. This cook. With a heart as big as the world. He could just enjoy the great successes of his American dream realized, but this is not who he is. As questions came in from the Richmond Forum audience, he taught us, just as if we were standing in his kitchen, or his classroom. As if there was already a relationship there. As, for sure, he cared for us, somehow.
Nothing he said was the stuff of unapproachable genius. He put his hand to a cascade of difficult situations and made a difference. It gives hope to any of us willing to try. He changes recipes to fit the circumstances and peoples they served. He looks for new ways to make things happen. He uses food not as a charity but as a healing connection in a community – sustenance and support, pulling people together to heal and restore their lives and livelihoods.
His goal: to do good in the world.
“I have work to do. I’m here to be an improver of the world. Not by talking but by doing. There will always be a job to do.”
Andres has even worked with the US Congress on the Feed Act and the Restaurants Act that have come out of our battle with COVID-19. Food insecurity and restaurant closures should not be happening when the former can be helped by the latter – subsidizing restaurants to feed people in need. Who knows what will come out of all this, but that can-do creativity and great generosity of heart are at the heard of what makes America great.
Get to know José Andrés. It will not be one-sides.
He closed the evening with this: “Maybe I’ve added an ingredient or two to your life. I look forward to one or two from yours one day.”