Chef José Andrés dishes on Obama, Trump and giving back

Lee Brian Schrager and chef Jose Andres raise a glass at Bazaar Mar at SLS Brickell. Felipe Cuevas

José Andrés is recognized not only for the impeccable, ingredient-driven food he serves at his 25-plus restaurants, but also for his global humanitarian efforts. A loving husband and father of three girls, he’s been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and awarded Outstanding Chef by the James Beard Foundation. Most recently, President Barack Obama presented Andrés with a National Humanities Medal at the White House.

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We’ve been proud to include him as a featured chef at the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival for years — as far back as 2006, when we honored his mentor, Ferran Adrià, at our Tribute Dinner. Eleven years later, we’re looking forward to putting Andrés onto that pedestal, as the honoree of our 2017 Tribute Dinner on February 25 at the Loews Miami Beach. (Anthony Bourdain will reprise his 2006 role as master of ceremonies.)

Andrés is the creative genius behind two South Florida restaurants: Bazaar at SLS South Beach and the new Bazaar Mar at SLS Brickell, where I chatted with him about what drives this legendary chef and champion of social justice. —Lee Brian Schrager

Lee Brian Schrager and chef Jose Andres know a thing or two about lobster.Felipe Cuevas

What sparked your interest advocating for food and hunger issues?

“I was very young when I read about and first saw there was inequality in the world. And then when I was in the Spanish Navy and saw it firsthand around the world. Then, when I moved to America, I saw the need of so many Americans.

“These are the three moments that made me realize that we need to do better for others. What I am working to achieve for myself and my family, I want to do for others.”

You established the nonprofit World Central Kitchen in 2012 after a trip you took to Haiti. Tell us about the work it does.

“World Central Kitchen is used to invest in food solutions for people. We go into Haiti, and we can see the areas where our investment can have a huge return for the community. Take, for instance, the orphanage we work with, where they now can feed up to 300 people a day. We went in there with my pastry chefs Rick Billings and Andrew Nelson, and we taught them how to make bread for themselves.

“We have more than 70 chefs involved with World Central Kitchen. This is not my organization; it is the organization of every chef who wants to make it their own.” 

Getting a medal from President Obama this past September — what did that mean to you?

“I’m still processing this one, quite frankly. Listen, I’m a 47-year-old millennial!

“The fact that the president awarded it to a chef, and a chef that is an immigrant — it’s not just for me, it’s for our profession. We have a lot of good times around food: We eat and drink and have fun. But we also make a difference. And not just the cooks and the chefs — the whole industry.”  

Who inspires you?

“All the people around me, starting with my wife.”

Before last year’s presidential election, you were locked in a legal battle with then-candidate Donald Trump after deciding not to proceed with a restaurant you previously had planned at one of his Washington properties. Has your stance changed?

“No regrets. He’s a business guy. I think it’s great we have a business person running the country. I understand why he did what he did, and I hope people understand why I did what I did back. This is purely business. I think everyone needs to stand behind who is our leader.”

What was it like for you and your wife to become U.S. citizens?

“The day that happened, we cried. It was very important to us, and now I have three American-born daughters. For me, becoming an American is about speaking for those who don’t have a voice.”

After serving in the Spanish Navy, you entered one of the most prestigious kitchens in the world: Ferran Adrià’s elBulli. What was a key thing you learned from your time there?

“I was there when Adrià was very young, at the beginning of his career. He always says to respect tradition, but challenge it. Don’t keep doing things the same way.”

What sets Spanish food apart from other cuisines?

“We value the basic ingredients a lot. I think the purity of the produce and ingredients is what makes Spanish cooking so special. … I feel the best of Spanish food in America is yet to come.”