In the wake of Hurricane Maria that’s left Puerto Rico devastated and its citizens struggling to find necessities like running water, electricity, food, and fuel, many have stepped up to help in whatever ways they can. Michelin star chef José Andrés is one of them.
The Spanish-born restaurateur (whose restaurant Mi Casa is located in Dorado, west of San Juan) traveled to Puerto Rico last week where he’s mobilized a team from his non-profit World Central Kitchen and coordinated with local chefs and volunteers to feed hurricane victims ... preparing a mind-boggling 80,000 meals so far. Here are seven facts you should know about this incredible man on a mission.
1. He’s been fighting hunger and poverty around the world for years.
Andrés first founded World Central Kitchen after Haiti’s horrific earthquake in 2010. In addition to helping on the frontlines after natural disasters, Andrés and his network have been tackling projects like building school kitchens; converting unhealthy charcoal stoves to clean gas stoves; and investing in equipment for small food-based businesses and co-ops everywhere from Cuba to Cambodia.
2. He plans to serve 100,000 meals this week.
Since relocating his kitchen on Monday to the Coliseo, a large event center in San Juan, the chef has been able to expand operations, using food trucks that can each deliver 1,000 meals ranging from sandwiches to chicken and rice to paella. He’s been using the hashtag #ChefsForPuertoRico, and gave his Twitter followers a look at his operations and army of volunteers promising to deliver 50,000 meals on Tuesday alone, and thanking FEMA and the First Lady of Puerto Rico for help.
3. He began his culinary career in the military.
After attending cooking school in Barcelona, Andrés served as an admiral’s chef in the Spanish Navy, where he had better-than-average accommodations for a new member of the service. “At the admiral’s residence, I had my own apartment with my own bathroom in a magnificent house,” he wrote in National Geographic in 2015. “I had access to the very best ingredients and a beautiful kitchen to work in. It was a paradise.” But his desire to travel led him to a position working on Juan Sebastián de Elcano, the world’s third-largest tall ship. “Sailing on that ship was an incredible experience that helped shape the man I am today. The foods I was able to taste and see during my time on board fed my passion to be a chef and change the world with the power of food.”
4. The city that drew him to America was ... Pensacola?
The Juan Sebastián de Elcano took Andrés all around the Atlantic, but he says the most important port he sailed to was the Florida Panhandle coastal town. “Where I first laid eyes on the country I now call home. Shortly after that first trip, I came back to begin my career as a chef in America,” he wrote in the National Geographic piece. “When I think about Pensacola, I am not only reminded of my time in the Spanish Navy, but also of how far back Spain’s relationship with America goes."
5. He opened his first restaurant at age 23.
In 1993, he partnered with Washington D.C. restaurateurs Rob Wilder and Roberto Álvarez to head up the kitchen at the new tapas restaurant Jaleo, which helped launch the now-ubiquitous tapas and small plates trend at restaurants around the country. Three additional Jaleo locations have since opened in Bethesda, Maryland; Arlington, Virginia; and Las Vegas; and another is planned for the Disney Springs dining complex in Orlando. Yes, even Mickey is into tapas these days.
6. Andrés’ empire has grown to 26 restaurants and one food truck.
Some of his eateries are over-the-top epicurean extravaganzas, including The Bazaar in Beverly Hills and South Beach, where he whips up whimsical, molecular-gastronomy-esque dishes — such as his take on Philly Cheese Steak, which layers thinly sliced Wagyu over his signature "air bread” filled with molten cheddar. And then there's é by José Andrés which limits its two seatings a night to nine guests each, who shell out $250 apiece for more than 20 clever and creative courses plated in front of them. (Cotton candy that turns into an empanada? Check.)
7. He’s a naturalized citizen.
More than two decades after moving to the United States, Andrés and wife Patricia became citizens in 2013. He created a video about his path to citizenship for the White House YouTube page last year, and now has made it his mission to fight for fellow citizens who need his help. “I was crying a lot today because I know we can do better,” he said during an impassioned interview with Anderson Cooper last week. “I know that the people are Puerto Rico are amazing people. We need to remember and we need to send this message: The people of Puerto Rico are Americans like you and like me. Dont forget about that.”
You can support World Central Kitchen’s relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Maria here.
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