Meet José Andrés, Famous Chef & Catholic Humanitarian

Recognized as both a gifted chef and a humanitarian, José Andrés has captured the hearts and minds—and palates—of people worldwide. Just try browsing his name on the internet: countless stories, videos, and reviews of Andrés’ restaurants, awards, books, and charitable ventures tell the story. Andrés is a man on a mission: to glorify food and to feed the hungry.

Raised in the town of Mieres, principality of Asturias, Spain, Andrés grew up in a Catholic household where his parents prepared meals daily.  “My mother and father always cooked at home, so my passion started then,” he said. “It was fun, going food shopping for the day and going every morning for bread to the local bakery” His initial cooking task, he said, was to tend the family’s paella. 

But as a teenager, Andrés studied cooking more formally, and after several apprenticeships, he worked with Master Chef Ferrán Adriá of the three-star Spanish restaurant El Bulli. By this time, Andrés realized that his love for cooking was embedded in his soul. He loved the entire process, from shopping for ingredients in local markets to cooking to washing up afterwards. “Cooking and food generate memories that never end,” he said.

In 1990, Andrés moved to the United States, working first in Manhattan before moving to Washington, DC. There he was hired to head his first tapas restaurant called Jaleo. ”It represented my food memories from childhood to the present,” he said. Later, he opened other Jaleo eateries plus other restaurants in the Washington, DC area. That helped Andrés launch his restaurant empire that includes more than 30 restaurants plus food trucks in the United States and elsewhere.

Despite his expanding culinary empires, Andrés may be best known for his outstanding humanitarian work that has fed millions of the hungry worldwide. In response to the 2010 earthquake crisis in Haiti, Andrés formed a group called the World Central Kitchen. Comprised of cooks and with the goal of providing food to people affected by disasters, the group has organized meals in Guatemala, Indonesia, Colombia/Venezuela, Mozambique, plus going to California fires and to Florida and North Carolina hurricanes. “We only go when we feel people are hungry. Twelve million people around the world are always in hard situations,” he said, adding these include fires, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

But, said Andrés, what drives his cooking passions and humanitarian efforts has always been his Catholic faith. “My faith has a lot to do with my life,” he said. “I was raised in a Catholic family that was always helping and feeding people. …As a little boy going to religious classes, I thought Jesus was so cool. He could do so much like make breakfast for fishermen. Jesus cooked it himself.”

Where he goes from now only God knows. But considering his past achievements, it is clear that Andrés has earned numerous awards, including a 2015 National Humanities Medal and the 2018 Humanitarian of the Year award by the James Beard Foundation. And, who knows,  maybe the Nobel Peace Prize?

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A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world — from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith. Her latest work is Cooking with the Saints.

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