OurLocalCommons

The chef recalls how he felt when he first arrived in America.

Elisabeth Sherman
May 31, 2018

During a recent interview on American University’s radio station WAMU, José Andrés revealed his special attachment to the city of Washington D.C. and explained why he feels at home in America.

He tells host Kojo Nnamdi that he knew he belonged in America all the way back when he first arrived in Pensacola as a member of the Spanish Navy in the late Eighties. But he still hadn't found his home—not until he arrived in Washington D.C. at least.

“Washington was special,” he explains. “I met my wife here in the old Café Atlantico dancing salsa. I became an American in Washington D.C.”

Andrés believes that “we all look for a place to belong," no matter where we come from, or our background. His compassionate attitude toward newcomers to America makes sense, given his outspoken advocacy for immigrants

“Nobody gives us that,” he adds. “We have to earn it. We have to work for it.”

Andrés acknowledges that he was lucky in his quest to find belonging not just in America, but over the course of his entire career, mentioning that he was given many opportunities along the way (he worked with Ferran Adrià at elBulli, for instance). But something more magical, more serendipitous, seemed to happen to Andrés when he found himself on America’s shores. He knew intuitively that he had found a place where he could not just survive, but thrive.

“I had that sense that Washington was my place to throw my anchor over the ship and say I’m going to stay here forever,” he says.

Of course,  Andrés did stay in Washington D.C., and he did indeed thrive. Now, he’s one of the world’s leading humanitarians, given his efforts to feed the beleaguered people of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria (work for which he recently earned the Humanitarian of the Year award from the James Beard Foundation). Still, he doesn’t think of himself as a person worth notoriety.

“Quite frankly, I don’t see myself as a celebrity anything,” he says. “I just see myself as one more citizen.”

His family, it seems, help keep his ego in check. He jokes that sometimes when he cooks for his family his daughters tell him that his meals are only “so-so.” He also didn’t always have the confidence he has now. As with most people in any field, not just cooking, he was full of doubt in the beginning.

The chef recalls bribing the Washington Post’s paper delivery men at four in the morning to give him a copy of the paper before they began their routes, so he could read one his first ever reviews of Jaleo before anyone else. He even remembers opening the plastic bag holding it.

“I miss those times,” he laments. He might just be one of the only chefs out there who actually thinks fondly of the times when a newspaper review had the power to make or break a burgeoning career.

You can listen to the rest of the interview with the Andrés here. He answers fan questions and also discusses how to keep improving the city, as well as his plans for expanding to Georgetown, Miami, and Los Angeles.