Why José Andrés Received a Standing Ovation at the Oscars
Introducing a musical performance by rapper Common and singer Andra Day at the 2018 Oscars on Sunday night, comedian Dave Chappelle said, “In American life, there are these people that abandon comfortable circumstances and take on issues that are bigger than themselves. And that is a thankless, thankless job to take on.”
He continued, “Oftentimes our heroes are unsung and unrecognized, but tonight we’re joined by ten extraordinary human beings who answered the call to action.”
And José Andrés, it turns out, was one of them.
The celebrity chef, most recently and visibly known for delivering over three million meals to Puerto Rico residents post-Hurricane Maria, stood on the stage silently during Common’s performance. A spotlight shined down on him and nine other activists who shared the stage. (It looked like Iron Chef, he later joked on Twitter.)
He held a folded-up Puerto Rican flag to his chest, which he unfurled at the conclusion of the performance. It received a standing ovation. Among those activists also on stage were Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke. Although the chef’s name wasn’t specifically called out during the song, Common shouted out to him—and the nine other honorees—with a tweet.
According to Variety, all ten participants were contacted personally by Common and Day to be part of the performance. “I thought, ‘What if we got people who really do the work?,'” the rapper told the outlet. “People who are true activists out in the world and on the front line. People whose lives, whether by circumstance, have become prime movers for change.”
And Andrés has certainly been on that front line. Arriving in Puerto Rico just days after the hurricane struck, while most places were still without power, he mobilized guerilla efforts to set up supply chains all over the island. Famously, the volunteer chef had gotten up to distributing 10,000 meals a day while FEMA was conspicuously, largely absent. Andrés relied on generators headquartered at Coliseo—the large stadium—in the island’s capital, San Juan, and reached out to rural and hard to reach communities. The chef also served meals in Houston post-Hurricane Harvey, and in California post-wildfires, working in conjunction with his non-profit, World Central Kitchen.
While Andrés has been widely recognized for his work—just in the past month, he won a James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award, and World Central Kitchen was named to Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies list—many people think it pales in comparison with his efforts. At one point, his on-the-ground operations in Puerto Rico were costing over $400,000 a day, as reported by the New York Times; his non-profit relied on a mix of grants and private donations to make it work. While he did receive money from FEMA, about $11.5 million in an initial contract, Andrés has said this fell far short of covering ongoing operating costs.
At the Oscars, Andrés re-tweeted a picture of himself holding the Puerto Rican flag with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda’s grandparents are from Puerto Rico, and he has also raised awareness and funds for the island.
This was the chef’s first Oscars, which he attended with his wife.