How Chef José Andrés Is Using Food to Create a ‘More Perfect America’

José Andrés, born in Spain, learned cooking at home before he started working in the kitchen of Ferran Andria’s El Bulli, proclaimed by many to be the “greatest restaurant in the world.”

After immigrating to the United States with this family in the 1990s, Andrés became a citizen. As a chef, Andrés was recognized with a James Beard award in 2003, earning the title Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic; later, in 2018, he won for Humanitarian of the Year. TIME Magazine listed him as one of 100 Most Influential people in 2012 and 2018; in 2015, President Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal.

Andrés is internationally known as the visionary humanitarian behind the founding of the World Central Kitchen, a not-for-profit that uses the power of food to nourish communities in crisis, especially after natural disasters. His ThinkFoodGroup has the mission of changing the world through the food served at a diverse array of restaurants that aim to create thoughtful, ingredient-driven and innovative dishes that reflect authenticity and tradition.

On Dec. 15, Andrés added two more spots to his robust roster of Chicago restaurants that already included Jaleo, perhaps the best spot in Chicago to sample jamon Iberico, Pigtail, a speakeasy cocktail bar, and Café by the River, a casual spot for coffee, sandwiches, and pastry. Bazaar Meat, touted as a “vibrant mix of sophisticated cuisine, artful service and playful theatrics,” serving such dishes as Cotton Candy Foie Gras and, of course, a selection of beautiful acorn-fed Spanish hams, and Bar Mar, serving a seafood-focused menu and inventive cocktails, are now open on the first and second floors of Chicago’s Bank of America Tower.

On December 9, Andrés was in town and was interviewed by Monica Eng, renowned reporter for Axios, at The Executive Club. Here are some words from Andrés, top-line comments divided into several topic areas, all in response to questions from Eng.

Meaning of “We the People”

executive club holiday party
Margaret M. Mueller, Executives Club President & Chief Executive Officer, with José Andrés and Monica Eng.

“When I became an American, they told me that being an American meant more than just getting the right to vote; they told me being an American meant trying to improve a little bit every day.

“I was at the National Archives, a fascinating building, and there you see the three words, “We the People,” and those words can be read in so many fascinating ways. If we stand by those words, We the People means not “Me First” – it means what’s good for me has to also be good for others. We the People means you can be whatever you want to be, but you must do so with respect for others.

“We the People are three very powerful words that have helped make America amazing, and we’re always improving on the lessons of the past, because no democracy is perfect, and we must have the willingness to improve a little bit every day, not leaving anyone behind, giving voice to the voiceless, and always believing that We the People, together, can move forward.

“You want people around who will lift you up during the hard moments. We’re only as good as the people we have around us, and we need to stop having structures that are pyramidal; we need to start establishing more structures that are flatter.

“I know I’m the boss in my company, and they put the title in my office, CEO or President, but we need to create organizations that are flatter, where everybody has the opportunity to contribute. Sometimes we lead by the front, and sometimes we lead by the back. We the People will always be more powerful than one person.”

We Built Longer Tables, Not Higher Walls

“Through food we can create a much more perfect America, not only by feeding the hungry but by creating jobs and making sure everyone has food on their tables. We need longer tables not higher walls, and that’s how we’re going to create a better future for American and a better world. Food should not be the problem; food should be the solution.

“When the pandemic hit, we announced that we were closing our restaurants, and the next day we announced we were opening them as community kitchens. This was one of the things that made me very happy during this pandemic; we built longer tables not higher walls.

“During the pandemic, I was following China, everything began in China. I learned a lot by watching what China was doing, which was to be applauded, because they had amazing, super effective systems to keep everybody safe during the process of feeding their people.

“When I closed my restaurants and opened community kitchens, I said “every meal is going to be free.” Who better than restaurants to feed people in hospitals, and elderly homes when the systems were shutting down? You had people going hungry? We partnered with 3000 restaurants across America, and all this time, we were not only taking care of the problem of feeding the people in need, but we were investing in the solutions.

“We showed Congress the way forward. We got Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and the House supporting a bill that will hopefully pass in 2022, so that when emergencies happen in America, we’ll be using the workforce of restaurants to make sure that nobody’s hungry.”

Destiny of America

“Immigration reform is not a problem for America to solve; it’s an opportunity for America to seize. It is a disgrace to every American, and especially business owners, that we cannot fulfill our destiny.

“When we have 11 million undocumented people, a million dreamers that are as American as you and me, maybe with an accent, but very well prepared.

“We had President Bush trying to pass immigration reform. He couldn’t. I’m disappointed the Democratic leadership didn’t try to pass immigration reform either.

“This country has been created by immigrants. We need to pass immigration reform because it is the destiny of America.”

Check out Executives’ Club of Chicago’s list of upcoming events.

How to Help:

Donate to World Central Kitchen and help provide fresh meals to communities in need.

World Central Kitchen uses the power of food to nourish communities and strengthen economies in times of crisis and beyond. When disaster strikes, WCK’s Chef Relief Team mobilizes to the front lines to provide meals to people in need. WCK’s resilience work advances human and environmental health, offers access to professional culinary training, creates jobs, and improves food security for the people we serve.

Learn more and see how WCK has been responding to those impacted by the recent tornadoes in Kentucky and surrounding states.

More From Better:

David Hammond

David Hammond is Dining and Drinking Editor at Newcity and contributes to the Chicago Tribune and other publications. In 2004, he co-founded, the 15,000 member food chat site; for several years he wrote weekly “Food Detective” columns in the Chicago Sun-Times; he writes weekly food columns for Wednesday Journal. He has written extensively about the culinary traditions of Mexico and Southeast Asia and contributed several chapters to “Street Food Around the World.”

David is a supporter of S.A.C.R.E.D., Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development, an organization founded by Chicagoan Lou Bank and dedicated to increasing awareness of agave distillates and ensuring that the benefits of that awareness flow to the villages of Oaxaca, Mexico. Currently, S.A.C.R.E.D is funding the development of agave farms, a library and water preservation systems for the community of Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca. 

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