10 Questions for José Andrés

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GL: Made in Spain was a popular PBS series you hosted. We hear you are a star in Spain. What is that like?

JA: I never considered myself a big star. But I think the first time that I realized that people knew about me, I was at the airport and somebody asked me for an autograph. At first I thought maybe I heard them wrong, but they told me that they had seen me on Vamos a Cocinar and they liked my cooking. We filmed something like 300 episodes of our show Vamos a Cocinar with TVE before we did Made in Spain here in the U.S. It was a breakthrough format for a cooking show. We had special guests, we had musicians, politicians, actors, all stopping by my set, knocking on the door, and they would come in and we would talk about food and life. It was amazing. But exhausting—I was flying back and forth between Washington, where my family and my restaurants were, and Spain, where we were filming. Then the show began to air across Latin America. That is when my wife said, "Do you want to be a TV boy or a chef?" I could have stayed in Spain and probably done many more years of TV, but we decided that truly being a chef, having these restaurants, is where I wanted to be, and I wanted to do that in America. I still had my dream of sharing the story of Spain with America, and that is what we were able to do with Made in Spain. And now, the new Spanish Studies program at the International Culinary Center in New York City is something I never could have imagined, but always hoped for. I also never would have imagined that I would be a dean. Here I am alongside greats like Jaques Pépin and André Soltner, men I have long admired.

GL: Tell us about the nonprofit organization you founded, World Central Kitchen. What is its purpose and what drew you to opening it?

JA: Truly to tell the story of World Central Kitchen, I have to begin with the amazing work of Robert Egger and D.C. Central Kitchen. When I first came to Washington, my partner Rob Wilder introduced me to the work they were doing, distributing food and giving culinary training to help put people on a new path in life. It was amazing. I was so moved and humbled by the people I met there. I've worked with them for many years and have become Chairman Emeritus. Watching what they have been able to accomplish, what you can do to change lives, has always inspired me to be better.

In January 2010, I was in the Cayman Islands with my family. Then the earthquake hit Haiti not too far from where we were. When I heard about what was going on, that was the true moment when I realized that as a chef I could be helping. So I went to Haiti [with] some solar cookers that friends of mine in Spain had been making and I had been working with. We went and we cooked meals for people, showing them what we could do with the power of the sun, and we left this for them to make part of their community. I was amazed by the people and the country, and wanted to do more. I created World Central Kitchen with the goal of helping people to feed themselves in a sustainable way. Our approach is to find solutions through research and development, to reevaluate throwing money at the problems and focus on investing in long-term sustainable solutions. We have several projects we are working on right now.

GL: This fall you are lecturing on culinary physics at Harvard in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. What is scarier—lecturing to the best and brightest or dealing with a Boston winter?

JA: Teaching at Harvard is really a huge honor for me. I was never a good student, so as a young boy in Spain I could have never imagined that one day I would be teaching at one of the top universities in the world. We have had an amazing experience putting this program together, with Ferran, with the university. For me it's like a dream to be able to teach science and cooking because it's everywhere in the normal everyday things that we eat. One of the most common foods that we eat is also the result of the most fascinating emulsion—mayonnaise. If we can better understand the why of something so basic like mayonnaise, then it can help us to discover more, and better understand the future of food.

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