In 2018, when he became the first chef ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, José Andrés had already established an impressive culinary résumé. A few years after emigrating from Spain, he ran the kitchen for Washington, D.C., restaurant Jaleo when it opened in 1993. From there, Andrés and business partner Rob Wilder launched the ThinkFoodGroup family of restaurants, which now comprises 30 venues around the U.S., Caribbean and Mexico. He’s won three James Beard Awards, but a lot of recognition bestowed upon him is also for his humanitarian work.
In 2010, he started World Central Kitchen to help feed families affected by the earthquake in Haiti. Since then, it’s organized meals for people affected by disasters around the world, notably in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and in Washington, D.C., where a World Central Kitchen outpost fed families of furloughed government workers during the shutdown earlier this year.
For him, this generosity is just an extension of what it means to be in the hospitality industry. We caught up with Andrés to talk about his new, food-court-style Mercado Little Spain, and what he likes to drink with his world-famous fare.
“At home, we drink a lot of Spanish wines, but I also love the wines of Virginia.”
Your first New York project, Mercado Little Spain, just opened in the Hudson Yards development. What made you decide to go with a market format?
This is a dream of many years, inspired by the mercados that you’ll find all over Spain; they are the centers of neighborhoods, towns and cities around the country. They are a place for a cup of coffee, shopping for dinner, a light snack, a glass of wine. We want to provide this important part of our culture to New Yorkers and introduce them to all things España.
What’s your ideal meal and glass of wine at Mercado?
It is impossible to choose just one! I might start with a glass of sparkling wine—maybe the Raventós i Blanc “Cuvée José”—and then I would wander around the Mercado. A tortilla [Spanish omelet] here, a croqueta there, maybe a churro or three. I think there is not a perfect pairing at Mercado because there is so much to taste and experience. Whenever in doubt, drink some Cava and explore.
And at home?
At home, we drink a lot of Spanish wines, but I also love the wines of Virginia. I would say we start the meal with some local cheeses and jamón with Sherry, followed by a Spanish cocido [chickpea stew] or an arroz [rice dish] and a bottle of red from RdV Vineyards. But I’m also just as happy with a few dozen crabs and a chilled bottle of Albariño.
Your activism and advocacy work has been at a steady increase in recent years. Why is that so important to you?
To me, it is important because I am a cook, I am trained to feed people, and there are hungry people all around the globe for many reasons. If I can bring them hot meals, along with my team from World Central Kitchen, we will be there.
Any advice for those dealing with the aftermath of the wildfires in California wine country? Or our readers who may want to help out?
My team with World Central Kitchen, we worked to feed many of the communities and first responders during the 2018 fires in Northern California and will plan to do so during any future fires. Readers can support WCK’s missions in California and around the world with donations, or send money to local fire departments in places like Lake County, Napa and Sonoma. And of course, drinking wines from small, family-owned wineries always helps—just ask at your local wine shop for their recommendations of wines to buy to support small makers.