Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Chef José Andrés’ shares his inspiring story about Puerto Rico

José Andrés wears his heart on his sleeve, whether that sleeve is part of an immaculate chef’s jacket or a stained T-shirt worn in the middle of a disaster zone.

The Spanish chef, 49, owns and operates restaurants in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Florida and Puerto Rico. He has hosted television cooking shows, including the PBS series “Made in Spain,” and taught at Harvard, but increasingly his focus has been on humanitarian work.

First in Haiti, following the 2010 earthquake, then in Puerto Rico, where he has emerged as one of the leaders of the relief efforts after the 2017 hurricane devastated the island. Andrés’ heart is very much on display in his new book, ‘We Fed an Island’ which publishes Tuesday on the late Anthony Bourdain’s imprint at Ecco.

Co-authored with Richard Wolffe, “We Fed an Island” isn’t just a memoir — it’s a call to action. Four days after Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico, Andrés was on one of the few commercial flights into San Juan, with a colleague and as much cash as he could get from ATMs on short notice.

Given little help by other aid organizations, the chef instead turned to locals, as well as his own friends, colleagues and cooks. “There’s something fundamental about food, about preparing, cooking and eating together,” Andrés writes. “It’s what binds us; it’s how we build community. Eating isn’t functional. Food relief shouldn’t be either.”

The book comes almost exactly on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall. His book is not just an account of what happened, but a plea for what has yet to happen. “Food disaster relief is not just a question of results and accountability,” writes the chef, his frustration as close to the surface of his narrative as his emotions. “It’s a moral necessity.”