José Andrés The world-renowned chef joins the hosts for a live taping of What's Good, to talk about immigrating to the U.S., humanitarian work through cooking, and why pineapples are better than steak.
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José Andrés

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José Andrés

José Andrés

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What's up, everybody? This is Stretch Armstrong.


And my name is Bobbito Garcia aka Kool Bob Love.

BARTOS: Welcome to WHAT'S GOOD WITH STRETCH & BOBBITO, your source for untold stories and uncovered truth from movers and shakers around the world.

GARCIA: Tonight, we are coming to you live from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. If you have not eaten tonight, you may want to leave the room right now...


GARCIA: ...Because we're going to get into some really, really deep narratives that are going to make you want to eat.

BARTOS: Joining us now, the man who put Washington, D.C., on the culinary map, Chef Jose Andres. Give it up.


BARTOS: So, Jose, you started your career in Spain at one of the most fabled and influential restaurants ever, elBulli. Then, you ended up in New York for a short stint.

GARCIA: You see how happy he got? He got really happy when you said that.

BARTOS: 'Cause I said it right.


BARTOS: And then you kept going south. And you ended up in Washington, D.C., which in the early '90s was not exactly a culinary destination. Did you see that as a challenge? And how were you hoping to impact the city?

JOSE ANDRES: Yes. I came from Spain. I was very young. But we need to almost to go back three years. The restaurant you mentioned, elBulli, Ferran Adria, he will be the guy that will be able to see in a glass of water things that we never ever dreamt. He was able to move cooking for three centuries. We were only three, four people with him but became the most influential restaurant in the 20th century.

So imagine that when the Big Bang happened, when the universe is created, imagine what you feel 30 something years later that you were there in that moment when something amazing happened. So if you don't know Ferran Adria and you never heard about elBulli, that's why you are listening to this show of these two guys...


ANDRES: ...Because you're learning about what's good.



BARTOS: That was a beautiful answer. It was - that was to a different question. But we were just curious about coming to D.C., which was not a culinary destination and was - OK. Thanks for the script, guys.


ANDRES: But you're right in a way. But I'm tired of saying, this city was not a great city.


ANDRES: Yes, we had steakhouses and potatoes. But he said to me, we had to meet some people. We had a French guy that nobody could understand a word, very much like my English, called Jean-Louis Palladin which was the best French chef in the history of French Cooking working at the Watergate. We had a guy called Janic (ph) come, another French guy. And believe me, I don't praise French people easily.


ANDRES: We had an amazing woman, Nora Pouillon.


ANDRES: The woman that believed that local and organic was amazing almost 40 years ago before organic became a word. That began here, not in California. I love California. We had - Bob Kincaid's the best American chef making Mid-Atlantic cooking before Mid-Atlantic cooking was a thing. We had so many amazing things going on when I arrived here that they get very upset when they tell me, nothing was happening in D.C. Hello? I learned from all of them. No, no, I mean it.

GARCIA: Well, Jose, you have 25 restaurants throughout cities around the world. You were Time magazine 100 Most Influential People. You also received the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. You arrived in the United States in 1991. Now, I have met many of people growing up in New York, being raised there, who arrived in this country perhaps with master's degrees, Ph.D.s and weren't able to pursue what they had studied when they arrived here. You know, might have just worked odd-end jobs to make ends meet just because, you know, what they had - what their skillset was couldn't be realized here.

I know other people who arrived here in this country who didn't have any training, didn't have any skill set but found hands-on experience, education here and have been able to really raise themselves up from what they might not have expected. I'm interested in your narrative, arriving here in '91 with the resources that you did have upon arrival and then becoming a successful - so are you ready to answer that? (Laughter). Go for it.

ANDRES: I mean, NPR is known by very long questions.


GARCIA: Arriving in the U.S., what powered your drive for your career upon arrival?

ANDRES: I came with $50. That was a very important moment for me, coming to New York as a young boy, working hard next to many, many amazing people, many of them probably undocumented. But today that we are having this moment about DACA, DREAMers, 25 years later, I only learned one thing - America, more often than not, is running on the shoulders of those people that have no papers.

And the big lie is that - our Senators and Congressmen are having salads every day right here on the Hill where their salads are paid by people that are working and documented. And the big lie is that - that's OK, but that's not any different form of slavery that we've been trying to escape as a country for so many centuries already. And that the best thing for America to do because it's the right thing to do is that immigration reform is not really a problem for us to solve, but this is an opportunity for us to seize.


ANDRES: Did I answer your question?

GARCIA: You nailed it.

BARTOS: So, Jose, you became a citizen in 2013. What made you decide to become a U.S. citizen when you did?

ANDRES: I always wanted to come here. I always thought that the stars in American flag, they were equal to the amazing night starry sky, where by watching the sky at night, you will feel freedom. You will feel that America was this amazing big place where everybody had an opportunity and was welcomed. So you asked me why my wife and I, we decided to become American citizens. It's because this has become my home. We have three American-born daughters.

And still to this day, I believe that America is exactly that, a beautiful night sky with those beautiful stars that send the message to every single person in America and beyond that we are the country that fights for the values we all dream of - honesty, hard work. We are all one. We're all equal. And nobody is above anybody else because color, race, religion or political party. That's why I wanted to become part of America.


GARCIA: Beautiful. Do your daughters identify with being Spaniard?

ANDRES: This is a question they probably will answer themselves. My wife and I, we've been trying to raise them to understand where they born, to understand that they also - they are a bridge from where their father and mother came from. And I'm not doing that because I want them to have many flags to believe in or to be - but I do believe we need to start investing the time in the young people of America, to tell them that we are where we born and where we came from but that we need to start connecting to places far away because it's the only way to be understanding the world.

I've been in many countries around the world. And I only know that I am who I am because I know that beyond that horizon that we see every day on sunrise and sunset is always something else. And my life is about knowing what's beyond the horizon. And by going through that amazing road of trying to learn what's beyond the horizon I don't know, I am uncomfortable. But you know one thing? Life starts at the end of your comfort zone. For that, you need to move away from where you belong and where you feel comfortable. That way, you are helping create a better world.

GARCIA: More WHAT'S GOOD live from Washington, D.C., coming up in just a minute.


BARTOS: We recently interviewed Ana Navarro, who told us that...

ANDRES: I love Ana, but I don't want to be with her in the room.


BARTOS: Well, she told us that she knew that she was an American once she started enjoying peanut butter. So curious if there was a guilty American food pleasure that you have?

ANDRES: You know one thing? I mean, listen to me. I hope they cannot take my citizenship away for this. But my daughters love peanut butter. And as a father, I endorse their liking. I don't know if you know, but we are producing some of the best oysters anywhere in the world right here at home, not too far away. I think oysters are the food of the people. So my guilty pleasure - oysters. I know many of you like peanut butter, but between peanut butter and oysters? Give me a break. But I should do a peanut butter and oyster sandwich. Now we're talking.

BARTOS: You sure about to do that?

GARCIA: He's a dude that - try anything.

BARTOS: I mean, if he shoves a plate of peanut butter oyster sandwiches in front of my face, I'm going to try it. Trust me.

ANDRES: If I'm saying peanut butter and oysters will be a good sandwich, believe me, it'll be a good sandwich.

BARTOS: I don't doubt it.

GARCIA: You've done a lot of humanitarian work. You went to Haiti after the earthquake. You've worked with the DC Central Kitchen. And most recently, you've been in Texas helping feed victims of Hurricane Harvey. What's the most memorable moment where you felt, man, really doing work here?

ANDRES: Well, DC Central Kitchen was created by Robert Egger - my hero, my mentor, my friend, a guy that on Ronald Reagan inauguration day pick up all the leftover food in every single hotel ballroom, food that wasn't touched, brought it to a central kitchen and began distributing that food that was untouched to churches, soup kitchens. Today, DC Central Kitchen feeds between 5,000 and 8,000 people a day. And I'm so proud to be part of that.

You know, after the earthquake, I was in Cayman Islands with my family. And I felt I had to go to Haiti. And I've been in many hurricanes, have been in few earthquakes. But I'm not going to lie to you, I feel bad at times because why I go is only to learn from precisely the stories that sometimes we don't tell when somebody is trying to tell us up from the White House that America is not awesome. But - because I don't want to use the word G. By me going there, I see that that America is awesome in every single F way.


BARTOS: So we all know how difficult the restaurant business is. You know, food is expensive. Profit margins are very thin. Yet you have managed to create this incredibly successful mini-empire in D.C. and outside of D.C. Yet you've leveraged much of your success for humanitarian causes, as we've just been talking about. Are the restaurants now a means to an end?

ANDRES: I don't have a clue sometimes where - when I go. Today, I saw - I read a story about Mark Zuckerberg. He's one little guy that came up with this nutty idea to connect people. Give me a break. Why? And the story was a negative story. The story was Mark Zuckerberg may be losing the control of his own company because he's donating so much of his wealth to charity. We keep giving value to the money we have in the bank. But more and more, I'm learning that the true value is really what is the power that every one of us has to impact the lives of others.

And if you tell me right now how a man and a woman can show how rich they are, I will tell you that in the 21st century, the American dream is going to be based not only how much money you have personally but in how many people you can touch with your know-how and your actions. That's what I believe. So you ask me, what's the end of my company? Sure I want to be wealthy, rich that I don't know what to do with the money. Fuck fundraisers. I don't want to fundraise. I want to be used acting and coming up with ideas to help the people of the world.


GARCIA: About 10 years ago, I had my first visit to Barcelona and Espana. And a friend of mine took me to a restaurant. She's like, we're going to get the best paella that you've ever had in your life. I was like, all right, cool. Let's go. Let's go for it. She says, my treat. Like, what? Cool. We get to the restaurant. There's a plaque on the floor. I'm reading the plaque. The restaurant had been founded and had been - stayed consistently in business since like the 1820s. I got nervous to walk inside. I was like, this restaurant is older than some countries.

When you know about that type of legacy that the food of your country has and now you're meshing it into other nationalities and other cuisines and, you know, here in the States as an American citizen, not that it's a burden, but how do you approach that type of legacy and carrying it forward?

ANDRES: And Spain is a small country in size - compared to America, not very big. But the truth is that in the moment you drive 50 kilometers, everything changes. The language may change. The cooking change dramatically. And this is very, very special and very unique because food - in my case, I'm a chef. I am who I am thanks to not the food itself but the histories and the people that made that food possible.

When I came to America to finally to stay in '93, I began doing tapas not taplas (ph). I told a guy, I work in a tapas place. And he tells me, what, are you the bouncer? Say tapas. Tapas. That's real. That happened. I began telling the history of where I came from. And I shared it with my new city. And I saw that food had this amazing way to be connecting me with people.

When I opened my Turkey restaurant, my Peruvian, my Mexican, my Chinese Mexican - well, I didn't invent it. There's a city in Mexico called Mexicali where Mexicans and Chinese moved into that town because they wanted to send them back to China at the beginning of 1900s. They stayed there. And today, it's 3,000 people, Chinese descent, making Mexican Chinese cooking. I didn't make it up. It's real.

So I only see the power of food and how cooks chefs or anybody that cooks has the power to tell stories from where they come from, the stories that sometimes they are centuries old and giving them a new meaning in today and somehow showing us a way into the future we are going to. We don't only feed the body, but we also are trying to feed the soul.

BARTOS: Jose, so I'm vegan.


BARTOS: Yeah. I know. I know. I'm vegan. And as a vegan, I experienced my share of pushback, which is another - a nice way of saying hostility. Tell us about a transcendent food experience you've had with either a vegan or vegetarian dish.

ANDRES: Yeah. I love vegetables, I mean, obviously.


ANDRES: Who likes beef? Raise your hand. Come on, people. Man, you are destroying the planet. You buy your piece of meat. You are powerful because you can afford what no other person on earth can 'cause your beef was raised two, three, four years, ate the grass that was fed by the sun and the water of the clouds. And on top of that, we gave them corn and wheat. So you bought a very big piece of beef. And we never see woman grilling. I don't know why. It's always the man that grills. Why? Because that's the way it's done in America. But the woman is the smart one. She's drinking her gin and tonic. And the man is making a fool of himself because he doesn't know how the grill works. And the meat is served on the table and you cut the piece, conversation stops.

Why? Because we're lions. You put the piece of meat in your mouth and you start munching. The first five seconds - glory, ecstacies, juices flowing around your mouth. Your tongue is saying, what's going on? Your nose is like, baby, give me some. But then that moment of glory goes away. You will suck in like Dracula all the juices. And then you will get that piece of S-H-I-T and throw it away as far as you could from your esophagus and your stomach. So what I'm trying to say...


ANDRES: ...Is that if you did the same thing with a pineapple, life will be happiness because from the second you put the pineapple in contact with your skin, using your hands, you will sense that the pineapple is cold and fresh and wet. And you put it in contact with your lips. And your lips are like, baby, what's going on here? And your teeth, they want - baby lips, let me get in touch with her. And you bite. And the teeth are like, wow.

And your tongue is like, what's going on? Sweet, acidity. And you munch. And every moment is happiness. And your esophagus is saying, baby, I want some. Every moment is unbelievable. So why we keep loving meat so much when the true pleasures of life are happening with the humble fruit and vegetables that Mother Earth gives us in such a natural way?


GARCIA: Jose, it's that time in our show for the da-da (ph) - oh, y'all already know?

BARTOS: The Impression Session. Are you ready for the Impression Session, Jose?

ANDRES: I'm going to make a fool of myself?

GARCIA: No, not at all.


ANDRES: But I'm going to know what that means? Are you going to help me?


BARTOS: So each of us is going to play for you a song. And you get to react any way you like, as if you needed for us to tell you that.


DEAD PREZ: It's all love. It's all love. It's all love.

ANDRES: Tradition. Modernity. Coming together in this amazing place, where Bobbito and Stretch are telling us that all is good, that mother is great.


DEAD PREZ: (Rapping) I don't eat no meat, no dairy, no sweets. Only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and whole wheat. I'm from the old school. My household smell like soul food, bro, curry, falafel...


GARCIA: So, Jose, that song is by a group called Dead Prez. It was released in 1999. And the title is "Be Healthy." The reason why I chose that record to play for you - personally, when I heard that, it really transformed my approach towards food and eating. And I had some limited awareness, but the lyrics were so powerful and the way it was presented and so sincere that I really stepped away from hearing that song that first day and made a change. I'm wondering, first of all, what you thought of the record. What's your reaction beyond your wonderful dancing? And then secondly, I want to know if there was a song in your history that hit you in that certain way that transformed your approach towards food?

ANDRES: Wow. Well, I learn English listening to songs and still, my accent, look. But it's funny you will say that this song - for me, the music, the classic guitar, amazing. Thank you. I know that was kind of homage from the place I come from. The rhythm is a rhythm I love. Probably this type of rhythm, call it hip-hop, call it rap, it's a rhythm.

I'm the happiest cooking in my house. And those mentions of food and vegetables and things, I mean, it's what I've been doing all night. I mean, you know, number one, if I ask you what I have in my glass right now, who said water? Water. Some people will say vodka. I am vegetarian too. This is made out of corn. And it's made in Austin.


ANDRES: I didn't mention it.


ANDRES: So you're saying, Jose, what are you drinking? And I will answer you, corn on the cob.


ANDRES: And life is all about how you tell the story. I am not drinking. I am a vegetarian, a vegan. And I'm enjoying what Mother Nature gives me one corn on the cob at a time.


KING KURTIS: Today's special is Memphis soul stew. We sell so much of this, people wonder what we put in it. We're going to tell you right now. Give me about a half a teacup of bass. Now I need a pound of fatback drums. Now give me four tablespoons of boiling Memphis guitar.

BARTOS: That's "Memphis Soul Stew" by King Curtis. The reason I picked that song was because as a DJ, I've always been kind of fascinated by watching cooks and chefs in their creative process. And I came to the conclusion a long time ago that the way musicians approach making music and the way chefs might approach inventing dishes have similarities. What do you think, Jose?

ANDRES: I think a lot of things. I think a lot of things - funny, great moments with bands and musicians. But I remember I was invited to a wedding. I offer as my wedding gift to cook for my friend. And that was Salma Hayek. And Bono from U2 was there.

GARCIA: He just happened to be there.

ANDRES: And we were in this amazing theater. And, you know, what Bono does in the wedding of his friend? He sings at 2, 3 a.m. in the morning. We're all, you know...

BARTOS: Corn on the cob.

ANDRES: Corn on the cob.

BARTOS: Cobbed up.

ANDRES: And Bono is singing. And he brings me the microphone, and I keep singing. And at the end of the song, he comes and says, you know, that was very interesting but I think you are the first one that ever takes the microphone away from me.


ANDRES: But what this is only telling me is that music has this amazing moment to be a soundtrack. I've always tried to play my life through the soundtracks of the moments. And I've learned that the bad moments are better because they have a soundtrack I like. And the best moments are greater because I have music. So that's what this is telling me.


BARTOS: Beautiful. Well, Jose, it's been an absolute pleasure having you. Thank you so much for giving us your time and talking to us. I hope...

ANDRES: (Speaking Spanish).

BARTOS: I hope the next time we speak it's over a fantastic table of food that is of your creation.

GARCIA: Everyone please, aplauso, aplauso, aplauso. Jose Andres.


BARTOS: That's our show. This podcast was produced by N'Jeri Eaton, Maria Paz Gutierrez, Frannie Mohanan (ph) and Sami Yenigun and was edited by Steve Nelson. Our executive producer is Abby O'Neill. Special thanks to our engineers, Josh Rogosin, Kevin Wait and Andy Heuther.

GARCIA: If you liked the show, you can hear more on NPR One. Check it out, interviews with Rosie Perez and Eric Haze as well as Hill Harper. Peace.

BARTOS: Peace (laughter).

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