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Chef José Andrés' Local Appearance Was Heartwarming and Hilarious

Internationally recognized chef, restaurateur and humanitarian, Chef José Andrés was interviewed onstage at the State Theater in Minneapolis by Star Tribune Food Editor Lee Svitak Dean as part of the newspaper's Inspired Conversations series.

Photo by Max Haynes, Star Tribune

There was no disaster in Minnesota and yet Chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that provides disaster relief one meal at a time, showed up.

“I’m not cooking for you,” the affable chef reminded the audience before taking his leave after an hour-long talk as part of the Star Tribune Inspired Conversation series at the packed State Theater last night (March 2).

Star Tribune Food Editor Lee Svitak Dean had the enviable job of keeping Andrés’ meandering storytelling on topic, and there was more than one occasion after a long, rambling and funny response that he asked her if he’d answered the question. Svitak Dean just shrugged noncommittally and moved on. He blamed it on living in Washington, D.C., too long where true Washingtonians learn there’s no reason to answer the question if you have a better answer to an entirely different question.

Andres’ World Central Kitchen team had just returned from Japan where they deviated from their normal disaster relief by feeding hundreds of passengers quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship due to coronavirus. They've served meals to families in shelters at the U.S./Mexico border and in Puerto Rico—more than 3 million meals to date, according to the organization's website. 

And while his name is always associated with the relief efforts, “I don’t get to every one,” he said of the natural disasters his group responds to.

Andrés has a long list of honors, including: one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2012 and again in 2018; the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals; Outstanding Chef and Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation; and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

He is the owner of 13 restaurants and the only chef who has both a two-star Michelin restaurant and four Bib Gourmands, a designation for moderately priced restaurants where a diner can order two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. He is credited with starting the tapas movement in the U.S., but he modestly waved that honor aside, saying, "Tapas were here before me," he just helped make the food style popular. 

In the course of his conversation, Andrés did a shout-out with a jab to his friend, Minnesotan and celebrity chef, Andrew Zimmern, who was in the audience. Andrés was a guest on Zimmern’s first episode of his new MSNBC show, What’s Eating America?

On a personal level, he talked about being 15 and going to a “cooking school without a kitchen,” to which he added in his heavy-Spanish accent, “only in Spain.” He wanted to be a chef ever since he was an infant, he said, being fed his mother’s milk. “Food is love,” he stressed. He remembered as a child seeing his father cook large pans of paella for friends and family on weekends and wanting to help cook. His father, however, always relegated him to stoking the fire. Seeing his frustration at one point, his father pulled him aside and told him, “Everyone wants to do the cooking; to stir the pot,” but controlling the fire underneath is just as important. It was an allegory that stuck with him. 

Andrés, who grew up in Spain, became a U.S. citizen a few years ago, after taking the advice from his friend and mentor, RIchard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You: "Find a place to belong." 

 "Everyone can provide the solutions," he said. And every citizen deserves to be fed, especially during the aftermath of an earthquake or hurricane, which is why "Feed them first," is his motto. He said that while we're worried about food waste, we should be equally concerned about "people wasting." No one should go hungry, nor should we ignore suffering. Charity, he added, is more about the empowerment of the receiver than the power of the giver. 

Love Your Melon and Second Harvest Heartland were the sponsors for the evening, and Andrés said he so believes in hunger relief that he was donating his speaker fee for the evening to the local hunger relief organization. 

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