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José Andrés’ ‘The World Central Kitchen Cookbook’ Is Mission Focused

Proceeds fund nonprofit providing comforting meals to those in need


spinner image josé andrés in chef outfit against green background with cutouts of forks, knives and globes
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: Francois Nel/Getty Images for Atlantis The Royal)

José Andrés, 54, is nearly as famous for his humanitarian work as he is for his flawless cuisine. The Spanish-born chef, who immigrated to the United States in 1991, has more than 18 restaurants in the U.S. and the Caribbean. In 2010, in response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, he launched the World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit dedicated to feeding people in the wake of crises such as political unrest and natural disasters. For his efforts, in 2015, President Barack Obama honored Andrés with the National Humanities Medal.

In his latest cookbook, The World Central Kitchen Cookbook: Feeding Humanity, Feeding Hope, Andrés shares original recipes plus dishes from famous friends and supporters including Michelle Obama, Emeril Lagasse and Marcus Samuelsson. He shares with AARP more about the book’s mission and the ongoing impact he hopes to make for those in need.

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In times of crisis, why is familiar, nourishing food so vital?

During and after disasters, in the moments that we face the biggest, most traumatic moments of our lives, it’s so easy to lose hope. If you lost your home, lost a loved one, lost your belongings … it’s hard to keep moving. So we serve warm, comforting dishes — ones that don't just bring calories, but also bring nourishment — and a reminder that the sun will rise again tomorrow. We always need to work with empathy, imagining how we would want our own friends and family to be supported if they were facing disaster. That’s how we should be cooking for everyone.

Were you surprised by how many of your high-profile friends — such as Meghan Markle, Michelle Obama and Emeril Lagasse — contributed to this book?

I have to tell you, it was such an honor to be able to bring such amazing people into this project. Each one of them believes deeply in our mission and have helped us along the way, so it felt natural to ask. And every one of them was so generous to offer their recipes and stories to the book. Not a single person I asked said no! It feels incredible to be able to share space in this book with people like Mrs. Obama, Emeril, Marcus Samuelsson, Ayesha Curry … and also people who maybe you haven’t heard of before, like Sanjeev Kapoor, who is one of the biggest chefs in India (and maybe of all time), Aline Kamakian and Kamal Mouzawak, who run some of the very best restaurants in Beirut, and Brian Yazzie, who celebrates the foods of Indigenous Americans.

Are there any celebrity-sourced recipes that surprised you?

If you know me, you will know that I’m not really a sweets guy … but [Meghan Markle’s] Lemon Olive Oil Cake is something amazing. Not that I didn’t know she’s a very skilled baker and cook — she had her own food blog and everything — but since I usually don’t like cakes, it was a nice surprise when I tried it. … And I can assure you that the recipe works really well … even if you don’t have your own lemon tree!

How do you want people to feel when they try out recipes from The World Central Kitchen Cookbook?

It might not look like it, but in many ways, this is an international comfort food cookbook. Wherever we go, we want to be making dishes that nourish people and give them a sense of warmth in a very difficult time, and more often than not, that ends up looking like comfort food. The beautiful warming spices of Indonesian beef rendang, the crunchy-spicy-rich Bahamian corned beef stir-fry called fire engine, or the aromatic stew chicken from St. Vincent — each of these might be more or less familiar to people reading the book, but to the communities where we make them, they are dishes that taste like home, and like hope.

Can you share a personal story of cooking one of these dishes for someone and how the dish brought comfort?

The dish that you see on the cover of the book is a Puerto Rican stew called sancocho. Our version has chicken, pork, plantains and root vegetables, but you’ll find a huge number of versions all around the island — it’s always a warming stew, comforting and homey, and usually served with the hot sauce called pique (we have a recipe for that too). In the early days after Hurricane María, the team started to cook huge pots of sancocho to feed people … it was a way to get us cooking, as we started to understand the massive scope of the response effort that was needed. With sancocho and arroz con pollo and other classic, familiar dishes, we fed a neighborhood at first, and then a city and ultimately the entire island. After the trauma and pain of the storm and its aftermath, everyone wanted and needed a taste of comfort … and sancocho was a good starting point.

When you're cooking for friends and family, what does a good meal consist of?

I’m really a simple boy when it comes to cooking at home. I love to cook dishes that I grew up with, ones that my mom and dad would make for me. Simple stews, fresh seafood, good cheese, a nice bottle of wine. In the summertime we might start with a cold glass of my wife’s gazpacho. In the winter it might be a bowl of sopa de ajo, garlic soup. Maybe I’ll make a big paella to share with friends and family, just like my dad did when I was a boy. These are the things I can never leave behind; they are so deep in my DNA.

If you weren't a chef, what do you think you might be doing?

spinner image cover of the world central kitchen cookbook by josé andrés; several dishes with food in them on cover
Clarkson Potter

Cook With José

Andrés shared three recipes from The World Central Kitchen Cookbook for AARP members to try:

Brooke’s Carrot-Farro Salad

Chef Brooke Williamson’s bright and refreshing salad tastes like spring and fall at the same time.

Marinated Queso Fresco

This recipe features a mild, semisoft cheese and honors Puerto Rican sisters Glorimel Torrado and Carmen Rivera and their cheese-making business.

Qorma-E-Nakhod

Nadia Ghulam’s dish is a warm, comforting vegetarian stew of chickpeas and spices, topped with a creamy cumin-flecked goat cheese sauce.

I have wanted to be a cook for so long in my life, I don’t think there were any other paths for me. I do imagine that maybe I could have been a doctor or something in the medical field. Both of my parents were nurses, so I grew up seeing the work they did and being so proud of them for the work they did. And one of my heroes, Clara Barton, was also an incredible helper of humanity. So yeah, maybe I would have been a nurse. 

You've talked about food as a way to tell stories and form connections. How does that factor into this cookbook?

That’s the whole book! The recipes we have are a way to share the stories from the people and communities who created them, who cooked them and who ate them. Behind each recipe is a history of creativity or necessity or pragmatism, and those are the stories we are trying to tell. And it’s not just about the dishes themselves. So many of the stories in the book focus on the people that World Central Kitchen has worked with around the world, their lives and the superhuman things that they do to take care of their loved ones. The way we’ve structured the book — with chapters about hope, empathy, adaptation, urgency, community, resilience and joy — reflects the values that we hold through our work and gives us a path to share the most amazing stories about people. I’m telling you, if you read this book end-to-end, you will be filled with hope for humanity (and some delicious food!).

Proceeds from this cookbook support World Central Kitchen's emergency response efforts. What are your hopes for how these funds will make a difference?

Our work is never-ending and will be more and more important as we see worse impacts from climate change. Right now, we’re in the middle of hurricane season and have already seen some terrible flooding and damage. And we are still on the ground in Maui supporting the community after the devastating wildfires last month. With the cookbook, we are telling stories of past responses and recovery, but by selling it, we will be able to support future work all around the world. We appreciate everyone who helps the work of World Central Kitchen, whether it’s by buying a cookbook, making a donation or getting involved and cooking for your own community.

Any advice for how others can get involved to help their communities?

I think it’s really important to remember that you don’t need to start with some big, impossible idea of how to help — then you can get too intimidated to even start. Think of something small: volunteering at your kids’ school or making an extra pot of chili (or sancocho) for a friend who’s had a baby, or offering to drive an elderly neighbor to the pharmacy to pick up their medicine. From there, you can get more involved [and] get people together who have the same vision for how to make the world a better place. Start to create a system of helping, and your community will come along with you. The most important thing is to just get started. 

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