Celebrity Chef and Activist Jose Andres Continues to Feed the Needy and Weary
Updated: May 22, 2021
Few chefs can boast a broader reach of restaurant brands and social service initiatives than José Andrés. The celebrity chef gained acclaim when he brought cuisine from his native Spain to the U.S. Those initial forays into the food industry have grown into a culinary empire. Andrés has created dozens of internationally acclaimed dining experiences, and he also works tirelessly to address world hunger.
Introducing José Andrés
José Andrés began his career in Spain, attending the Escola de Restauració I Hostalatge in Barcelona. As a chef, his first professional experience took place during his time in the Spanish Navy. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1991. It took him a mere two years to kick off his first restaurant, Jaleo, in Washington, D.C.
From there, Andrés expanded his reach. He opened and revamped a wide array of D.C. restaurants, including Café Atlantico, Jaleo Bethesda, and Zaytinya. He brought culinary influences from Spain to each establishment. The Jaleo brand helped to popularize tapas in The U.S., small-plate Spanish dishes. In 2005, he published Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America, which became a bestseller.
In 2006, Andrés formed the ThinkFoodGroup to unite his brands under one mission statement, incorporating authenticity, innovation, passion, service, and profitability.
In 2010, three Andrés properties opened their doors in Las Vegas. The ThinkFoodGroup continued to raise money and work with charitable organizations. World Central Kitchen, Andrés' own food security initiative, launched in 2012.
The same year, TIME Magazine named Andrés one of the world's 100 most influential people. His brands and charitable efforts continued to expand, and his career remains as active as ever today.
(Acclaimed chef José Andrés uses his influence to hinder world hunger.)
Andrés consistently innovates and experiments; Zaytinya serves hybrid Turkish and Greek cuisine, and China Poblano famously combines Chinese and Mexican. Andrés’ minibar, inside the larger Café Atlantico, pioneered Andrés’ “restaurant within a restaurant” concept. The Pepe food truck introduced Spanish-style sandwiches to D.C.’s street food scene.
Andrés has received great acclaim for his culinary achievements. As early as 2004, he made Saveur Magazine’s 100 List and became Bon Appétit Magazine’s Chef of the Year. In 2007, he won the Iron Chef title over fellow celebrity restauranteur Bobby Flay. In 2011, the James Beard Foundation named him Outstanding Chef. In 2016, minibar won two Michelin stars; it would continue to do so several years later.
Andrés’ most recent restaurant is Mercado Little Spain, which opened in New York City last year. It brings his total of culinary locations to 26, under 16 unique brands. In 2017, Andrés earned a prestigious Lifetime Achievement award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
(Participants in World Central Kitchen’s Sink to Stove program learn food safety and sanitation.)
Despite his extensive resume as a chef, Andrés has achieved more recognition for his humanitarian work. He has dedicated himself to immigration reform, world food security, and international peace. Threads of social justice run through every facet of his career, and he frequently turns his attention to international disaster relief.
Andrés gained U.S. citizenship in 2013, but he also stays connected to his country of origin. In 2010, Spain’s Ministry of Culture awarded him an Order of Arts and Letters. Two years later, he became the Dean of Spanish Studies at the International Culinary Center. Refugees International gave him the McCall-Pierpaoli Award, a high humanitarian award for assisting refugees.
Andrés has worked as a cultural advocate under the U.S. government; he joined the State Department’s American Chef Corps in 2012. President Barrack Obama named him Outstanding American Citizen by Choice in 2014. The next year, Andrés traveled to Cuba alongside Obama as a Presidential Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization. The Congressional Hunger Center gave him a Hunger Leadership Award, and Obama recognized him again with a National Humanities Medal.
The James Beard Foundation named Andrés Humanitarian of the Year in 2018. He holds honorary doctorates in Public Service from Tufts and George Washington Universities.
(Students at World Central Kitchen’s Haitian partner school, Ecolé des Chefs, prepare for future careers in the culinary world.)
World Central Kitchen
Andrés launched World Central Kitchen (WCK) in response to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. He used his network and resources to feed survivors, filling in where infrastructure failed. When Hurricane Maria decimated parts of Puerto Rico, WCK similarly served meals to 3.6 million people. WCK continues to help populations in crisis, including Americans struggling through the pandemic.
To ensure sustainable food security, WCK has created several programs worldwide. It runs Clean Cooking, which helps community kitchens in Haiti and Guatemala improve sustainability. It aims to eliminate, or reduce, the harmful environmental impacts of wood and coal-fueled fires.
Programs like Sink to Stove, a training course on kitchen sanitation, and Plow to Plate collaborate with farmers on sustainable practices, operating worldwide. WCK partners with École des Chefs, a culinary school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It provides a stellar education to aspiring chefs under the renowned Mi-Sol Chevallier.
Restaurants for the People
In response to the pandemic, WCK launched Restaurants for the People. The initiative aims to keep independent restaurants afloat and provide meals to communities in immediate need. COVID 19 has done massive damage to the restaurant industry; nearly six million restaurant workers have lost their jobs, and experts estimate annual sales to drop by around $225 billion. Restaurants for the People, along with Andrés himself, fight to mitigate the harm.
The initiative operates in a three-step process. First, Restaurants for the People identifies what specific communities need. Next, it incorporates local restaurants into its network. It creates localized delivery systems between restaurants and communities. The goal is to feed those in need while maintaining weekly revenue for independent restaurants.
Restaurants for the People is working with over 2,400 restaurants, and their network continues to grow. The initiative has provided $60 million to local restaurants, surpassing their initial goal by $10 million. $78 million has gone back into the food industry thanks to WCK's work.
WCK spokesperson Chloe Mata Crane writes, "Restaurants for the People doesn't just support local restaurants; it boosts entire local economies." Initiative supporters can join the Volunteer Corps to help out.
(Andrés works with Haitians post-earthquake to feed a country in crisis.)
The FEED Act
Andrés also supports American food security at a legal level. Along with Representatives Mike Thompson and the now Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, he drafted the FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries Act and hoped to get it through Congress. The so-called FEED Act would allow the U.S. government to cover more than 75% of “disaster-related expenses.” If Congress removes this cap, food infrastructure could greatly expand, and more hungry Americans could access meals during the pandemic.
As of July 2020, the FEED Act hasn’t passed. But José Andrés continues his mission, providing unforgettable culinary experiences while feeding whomever he can.
Written by Olivia Cipperman