Chef José Andrés reflects on charity work, loss of Bourdain

Spanish-American Chef José Andrés is known just as much for his talent in the kitchen as for his ability to put on a great show. - Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Chef José Andrés said his World Central Kitchen is serving meals to furloughed government workers in Washington D.C., for the same reason it’s feeding asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico.

“It’s hungry people,” Mr. Andrés said, taking a break on Friday, just before the start of Cayman Cookout’s Barefoot Barbecue at the Royal Palms. “What I’m doing in D.C. right now is what we’re doing around the world. You need to provide for others. We believe in longer tables and shorter walls.”

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The star chef has been part of the Cayman Cookout event for the past 11 years, serving up signature dishes while puffing on an almost ever-present cigar and making sure he has a good time. On Friday night, he joined the stage band during its performance, grabbing a microphone and repeatedly chanting to the dancing crowd such things as, “I don’t see you jumping!” and “Who loves Eric Ripert?”

His charitable organization first received recognition for its work in Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. What started as a relief effort with 20 cooks grew into an organization with 25,000 volunteers, Mr. Andrés said. More than 4 million meals have been served to storm survivors, he added.

Since then, World Central Kitchen has popped up post-disaster in places such as Indonesia, North Carolina, Guatemala and California, where recent wildfires displaced thousands of people. Overall, Mr. Andrés said, more than 9 million meals have been served by the organization.

“I’m happy we’re able to make a difference one plate at a time,” he said. “We feel we’ve learned now that we can come anywhere and help.”

That includes Cayman, should the need arise.

“I hope we never see another hurricane come through Cayman,” he said. “But if it does, we’ll be here supporting the people of this island. You were there for us in the good times and we will be there for you in the bad times.”

Mr. Andrés said he and his fellow chefs are struggling with their own bad time this year. Chef and television star Anthony Bourdain, who was a Cayman Cookout fixture from its inception, took his life in 2018.

Chef José Andrés makes his grand entrance at Seven Mile Beach aboard a yellow submarine. – Photos: Stephen Clarke

Each year, Mr. Andres said, he, Mr. Bourdain and chef Eric Ripert – founder of the Cookout – would walk together down the beach from The Ritz-Carlton to the Royal Palms for the Barefoot Barbecue.

“We’ve always walked the beach, the three amigos,” he said.

On Friday, it was just himself and Mr. Ripert.

“We walked and celebrated him,” he said. “He always made us feel the world was a much smaller place.”

Mr. Bourdain’s presence still hangs over the event, he said. And he feels his late friend may have shown up a couple of times.

At an event earlier in the day, Friday, Mr. Andrés held a cooking class where he demonstrated making the Spanish seafood dish, paella. At the end of the session, he said, a blackbird landed on the table where the paella was sitting and helped itself to a bite.

“Eric said, maybe that was Tony,” Mr. Andrés said with a smile.

More convincing to him, was finding a seahorse while on a dive in front of The Ritz-Carlton. Seeing a seahorse is rare and this one was in an unusual place, he said. He immediately thought about his daughter.

“Her dream was to see a seahorse,” Mr. Andrés said. The following day, they went diving together in the same spot.

“We found the seahorse again and were able to take a picture. Maybe the spirit of Tony was in the seahorse.”

Chef José Andrés and his organization World Central Kitchen have taken on feeding those in need in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., among other locations.

Mr. Andrés’s charity work led to a nomination this past year for the Nobel Peace Prize, but he shrugs off the accolade, saying he knows many others more worthy of such recognition.

“I don’t think much about it,” he said.

“I’ve got enough love and enough recognition. I don’t need more recognition. The world is full of amazing heroes.

“I did my little part because I had the ways and the means,” he said.

“If I can give back a fraction of what I got, I’m very happy.”

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