At the opening night of the 2018 LA Food Bowl, José Andrés discusses the true power of food

Mid-Wilshire District. L.A. The Wiltern Theater, the house of rock ‘n roll, the stage for so many hystorical concerts, was chosen by the LA Times Food Bowl as the HQ for the 2018 opening night: a roundtable discussion among chefs, pundits and conneisseurs on food, AND to be precise, about The Power of Food. How to grow it, how to preserve it, and how to distribute it, especially in dire situations.

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At the opening night, the man of the hour was chef José Andrés (restauranteur from the Bazaar & World Central Kitchen for disaster relief), who joined L.A. Kitchen’s Robert Egger on the stage of the Wiltern to talk about humanitarian relief and what we can do with food.

Credit: Getty

Other guests and speakers included LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold (read our interview here), Zooey Deschanel (The Farm Project), Ron Finley aka The Gangsta Gardener, Susan Feniger (Border Grill), Nyesha Arrington (Native in Santa Monica), and Tim Kilcoyne (Scratch Sandwich Counter). Together, they helped judge a sous-chef cooking demo, with local chefs making a dish that could be scalable for thousands as part of post-disaster relief efforts.

If last year’s theme was managing food waste, the 2018 Food Bowl opening night was all about changing the world with food, to make sure that a multitude of people will get food (and what kind of food) when needed. Also, how to find spots and gardens where to grow veggies (Ron Finley’s project), and how to find out where your food is coming from (The Farm Project). The event benefited L.A. Kitchen, which has been feeding the hungry in Los Angeles since 2013, with Andrés as the founding board chairman.

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Once in (avoiding a humongous line), I did not waste any time and went straight to the jugular, so to speak, and talked to Jose and Zoey and eveyone else who was willing to share their thoughts. I was curious to know more about Jose so here he is, the man of the hour, Mr. Puerto Rico relief savior, Mr. José Andrés.

A Conversation with José Andrés at the 2018 L.A. Food Bowl

Even before he smiles, the first words coming out of his mouth are “Hola que tal”…. a simple CIAO in Spanish, with the addition of que tal, which sounds almost like a hindu salutation, expressing a pacific way of living—isn’t it nice not to growl and hate everyone? Followed by a firm handshake and a wonderful smile on his face. This is chef Josè Andrès:

Humanitarian endeavors. I’ve been doing this for the last 20 years of my life, feeding people whenever needed, the Ventura fires, Thomas Fire, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Colombia… I seem to be the face of the HELP ME poster… Maybe because of my 230 pounds of meat frame, I am the one who seem to be there all the time, but we had more than 25,000 people there helping each other. I had lotsa of help. It’s not about me, but we the people. It’s about them.

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With the World Central Kitchen, we served more than three million meals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. World Central Kitchen, which was launched after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, also came to Houston last year to feed victims of Hurricane Harvey. WE THE PEOPLE, let’s not forget.

President Trump. I am a big fan of president Trump [laughs]. He wants to build walls. I want to build walls too. So we agree on that. We only differ on how we use them. I want to build community centers, hospitals, schools, kitchens, libraries. These are the best walls, no matter how tall they are, you can overcome them. Listen, to anyone who is listening to me, especially parents, I understand why you cross, why you look for a better way of life. If your children are hungry, you have to feed them at any cost. So you cross rivers, borders and will eventually climb, crawl over, or under any wall, so that is why I say that the best walls that we can build are kitchen walls. Why? So we can give our kids better lives, like the one we did for Haiti. If we do the same for other countries, you will not see negativity.

“It is critical to recognize that food—how we grow it, sell it, cook it, and eat it—is as important as any other issue we are facing.”

Farmers’ markets. Is it all healthy? Yes and no. Look at me. I am 280 pounds of healthy farmers’ markets products, no one eats better food than I do… My favorites are avocado toast and apples. But on that food we can easily get fat, yes, the word is F-A-T, do not be afraid to say it…..Why? Because most of the time we forget about moderation, which is very important in life.

Food for Puerto Rico. We cooked 160,000 meals a day, for many weeks in a row. Sometimes, food had to be shipped to people and places that were 2/3 hours away, so we needed warm food, fat food, with lots of calories. We also nedeed tray that could contain many portions (at least 25 per tray), simple food. Food like picadillo, a traditional dish in many Latin American countries and the Philippines that is similar to hash. It is made with ground beef, tomatoes, and other ingredients that vary by region. Also, one of my favorites was prepared by native Puertorican chef Wilo Benet who came up with pastel de carne aka meatloaf (doesn’t sounds better in spanish?). All of this with mashed potatoes, olive oil and some sort of cheese.Iit was perfect. Warm, fatty, fast, lotsa of calories, delicious. All in one plate.

On Italian food. Everyone knows that Italian cooking began in Spain [laughs a lot]. It is a fact Everything else is fake news. The first tomato recipes in Italy was called “Spanish sauce” [true or false? you guys tell us], but [laughs] it’s incredible that Italian and Spaniards are so similar yet so different. We share the love for the same ingredients. It’s amazing that, despite being such close neighbors, we cook very different dishes with same ingredients… It’s all good, it’s all love.

Small plates aka tapas. Small plate is not just food… it’s really a way of life. It’s a way of living. In America, I adapted to be sitting down at a table, but the best way is the Italian way, the aperitivo way: standing up and going from place to place, never sit down. My dream one day is to have this big “street” and going from place to place sipping sangria, beer, and vino, having ensaladilla rusa here (our insalata russa in Italy, or Russian salad) and a croqueta there. You know, fill those croquetas with everything you want, the best Spanish ones are croquetas de bacalao (cod), de jamón (ham), de espinaca (spinach) and croquetas de pollo (chicken)… I will even go further to criticize myself for not doing tapas the right way… but dreams are hard to die… One day tapas will be the way.

ALSO READ: The Best Pasta Dishes in Los Angeles (2017 Edition)

Favorite food as a child. My mom would go and buy eggs, milk, flower.. and make me HEAVEN!! we called it bizcocho, which in the Spanish-speaking world refers to a wide range of pastries, cakes or cookies. Now I make my own.

On food waste. I hate to call it ‘waste’ food. You cannot give any waste to people. When they say let’s feed the poor with food that would be wasted  or discarded… it’s a mistake. Back in the day, we used everything, my mom would empty out our refrigerator till the next paycheck would come. We need sometimes to re-invent less and go back to the roots.

la food bowl - The power of Food

On cooking italian. Oh my God, I am an excellent Italian cook. My best dish is risotto, no one beats my risotto. I cannot give you recipes, otherwise everyone else would do it, would copy it. Also, I love pizza, such an incredible invention.

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My secret? I make the best salsa tomatillo tomato sauce. My only secret is that I fry the tomatoes, I keep the oil very very hot, crushed garlic, tomatoes cut down… This recipe is going to be in my upcoming book. The title? I don’t know yet, but this recipe will be in there, salsa tomatillo

Food really is our DNA, and much more. Food is a storyteller, it opens a window into our past and it is an ambassador of foreign lands, it bridges the gap between countries. The Boston Tea Party was a great revolution ignited by food. Gandhi’s Salt March created the freedom of an entire nation. Food can and does change the world, and that’s what gives it such unbelievable power.

And now more than ever, it is critical to recognize that food—how we grow it, sell it, cook it, and eat it—is as important as any other issue we are facing, one that is vitally connected to our lives. From culture, to energy, to art, to the economy, national security, the environment, and health, everything is connected through food, and we need to start giving it the attention it deserves.


Photos by JENNIFER JOHNSON PHOTOGRAPHY unless otherwise noted, courtesy of the event organizers. All rights reserved. Thanks to The Wiltern and Silvia Carluccio of Live Nation for the kind assistance.