The man who has helped prepare hundreds of thousands of fresh-cooked meals for Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria is now among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2018. For the second time in six years, the news weekly has named chef and restaurateur José Andrés to its list of the world’s most powerful men and women.
Andrés is not listed in the artists or leaders categories, where you might expect to see his name. He’s listed among the “titans,” a group that includes Jeffrey P. Bezos (owner of Amazon.com and The Washington Post), Oprah Winfrey, Cindy Holland (vice president of original content for Netflix) and Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX).
Emeril Lagasse, the celebrity chef who made his name in New Orleans, a city that has weathered its share of natural disasters, wrote the homage to Andrés in Time:
But José is also a hero whose greatness transcends culinary excellence. His relief efforts in natural-disaster-stricken places like Haiti and Puerto Rico have had profound and lasting effects. By providing meals to people in dire and desperate situations, he not only ends their hunger — he offers them a powerful sense of hope for the future.
“It feels good,” Andrés said in a phone interview with The Post on Thursday. “I wish it was more for the team, if I could choose. What we did was a team effort. Yeah, you know, I was there and I had the biggest voice, and I lead in this moment sometimes. I’m very happy for me, but I’m very happy because I feel like all my team will see that they are somehow recognized, too. I’m very humbled by it.”
At the same time, the chef was sorting through his feelings about sharing the Time honor with at least one person whose influence may not be so uplifting. Andrés wouldn’t name names, but President Trump was also on the magazine’s list this year. Andrés’s relief efforts in Puerto Rico often put him at odds with Trump, who was accused of focusing his attention on other matters as the crisis unfolded. (Andrés and Trump have been legal foes, too, after the chef backed out of his lease at the Trump International Hotel in the summer of 2015 when the then-presidential candidate referred to Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists on the campaign trail.)
“You hope you they are giving it to you for something good,” said Andrés, who was in Spain recording an episode of CNN’s “Parts Unknown” with Anthony Bourdain. “But we know there are some people that they don’t see as positive influences, and they’re getting it, too. So it’s kind of a mixed feeling at least.”
During the latter half of 2017, Andrés, the chef and owner behind ThinkFoodGroup, frequently took leave of his daily responsibilities to focus on feeding the hungry with World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit group he founded after the massive earthquake in Haiti. The chef and organization first mobilized in Houston in late August after Hurricane Harvey left much of the city underwater. A month later, they were in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, providing millions of hot meals to residents who would have had to survive on MREs and snacks for months if not for Andrés and many volunteers.
Late in 2017, Andrés and World Central Kitchen also collaborated with L.A. Kitchen — founded by Robert Egger, the same man who started D.C. Central Kitchen, an organization that Andrés has championed for years — to help feed displaced residents and firefighters who battled the wildfires in Southern California.
Andrés’s humanitarian work has raised his already high profile. In February, he was named Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, and he has been profiled in depth by many media outlets, including the New York Times, “60 Minutes” and the Wall Street Journal. He even appeared on the Academy Awards broadcast.
Meanwhile, World Central Kitchen remains in Puerto Rico, continuing to feed people and preparing for the next hurricane season. To date, WCK has served more than 3.5 million meals in Puerto Rico, according to a spokeswoman for the organization. The nonprofit is also securing grants to help small farmers, Andrés said. He added that WCK is still deciding what its future will be on the island and whether it will have a permanent presence there.
“Everybody is expecting a lot from us. I try to remind everybody that we’re a very humble little NGO, with two people on payroll. We grew up very quickly because the people needed us to grow up. But now we need to do things right,” Andrés said. “We are in this moment of trying to establish who we are and what we do, because we cannot be doing everything.”