Ever since José Andrés and his small nonprofit group took it upon themselves to feed hungry Puerto Ricans following the near-knockout punch of Hurricane Maria last year, the celebrity chef’s name has been whispered in talk about potential nominees for a Nobel Peace Prize. Today, Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) confirmed that he has nominated the restaurateur and humanitarian for the 2019 award.
Delaney, who has already announced his presidential campaign for 2020, said he could not discuss any specifics of his nomination or what motivated it. The five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the annual prize, discourages nominators from making any public announcements. The deadline for nominations is Feb. 1, and the committee will announce the laureates next October.
The Nobel Foundation did not immediately respond to an email about Andrés’s nomination. According to its website, the Nobel committee “does not itself announce the names of nominees, neither to the media nor to the candidates themselves.” The committee also doesn’t reveal any information about nominees until 50 years after the award is first announced.
Last year, according to the committee, there were 331 candidates, the second-highest number ever. The record was 376 candidates in 2016.
Only certain individuals are allowed to submit nominees. They include people who have previously won, past and current members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and current members of a national assembly, such as the House of Representatives.
The Washington Post obtained some of the language from Delaney’s nomination submission for Andrés. In the section where the congressman explained why he nominated Andrés, Delaney wrote:
“Because of Mr. Andrés’s work, millions of people have been fed. This is the most basic human need and Mr. Andrés has proven to be world-class in this essential humanitarian field. With an incredible spirit and an innovative mind, Mr. Andrés is solving one of the world’s ancient problems and supplying world leaders with a new road map to provide more effective disaster relief in the future.”
When reached by phone, Andrés characteristically downplayed the nomination.
“Oh, wow,” he said, after a long pause. “They nominate everybody.”
But on further reflection, Andrés said the nomination just underscores the growing importance of food in U.S. politics. Food plays a role in national security, public health, even in immigration given that so many restaurant kitchens are run by immigrants from Central America.
“In the end,” he added, “you see that food every day is having a bigger impact.”
Andrés’s nomination comes as little surprise. As the face of ThinkFoodGroup, the parent company behind Jaleo, Oyamel, Minibar and other Washington-area restaurants, Andrés has been spending as much time in disaster zones as in kitchens over the past year or so. His Twitter account has been a real-time diary of his humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico, Florida, North Carolina, Guatemala and many other locales served by the volunteers of World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit group he founded after the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
This Thanksgiving, Andrés was not at home carving a turkey with his friends and family. He was in California, preparing hot meals for survivors of the Camp Fire, along with fellow chefs Tyler Florence and Guy Fieri. They served 15,000 meals on Thanksgiving Day.
“The least we can be doing today on Thanksgiving is all coming together and show the people what they deserve: love and support, one plate of food at a time,” Andrés said in a video posted on his Twitter feed.
The chef’s experiences in disaster zones, especially World Central Kitchen’s long stay in Puerto Rico, has given Andrés a unique perspective on food relief. Earlier this year, he and journalist Richard Wolffe co-wrote a book, “We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time,” which argued that the United States and major nonprofit organizations need to rethink how they feed people after natural disasters. He wants relief groups to embrace complexity, rely on local resources and ditch the authoritarian, top-down leadership.
“What we did was embrace complexity every single second,” Andrés wrote in his book. “Not planning, not meeting, just improvising. The old school wants you to plan, but we needed to feed the people.”
Andrés’s humanitarian efforts have often pitted him against President Trump. The pair famously clashed in court after the chef withdrew his planned restaurant at Trump International Hotel. The lawsuit was settled last year, the terms undisclosed. Andrés’s public fights with Trump, of course, may play well to voters as Delaney makes his run for the White House.