The very first audience question for Chef José Andrés was clearly from a fan of both the chef and his restaurants. Andrés, who spoke on June 2 at the third annual Books in Bloom Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion, was asked: Would he open a restaurant there, in Columbia?
He wouldn’t rule it out, he told the audience, which applauded and cheered enthusiastically. His team was considering new ventures, he admitted, but he could not say where just yet. To be in a community as supportive as Columbia, though, would be ideal, he said.
Again, the crowd erupted with approval. To be fair, most of Andrés’ remarks were met with this reaction. Blunt and charismatic, he spoke for 45 minutes, mostly about his relief work in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and his book about that effort, “We Fed an Island.”
In short, he charmed a group that was waiting all afternoon to hear him speak.
He also revealed that there could be a movie one day of “We Fed an Island.”
Andrés’ company, ThinkFoodGroup, owns restaurants throughout the nation including Fish at MGM National Harbor, America Eats in Georgetown and Zaytinya in Washington, D.C.’s Penn Quarter. He also founded the nonprofit World Central Kitchen, and his humanitarian efforts to feed people displaced or otherwise affected by disaster earned him a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
During this remarks, Andrés spoke at length about the frustrations surrounding the relief effort in Puerto Rico and was non-partisan in his message that Americans shouldn’t have to go so long without food when disaster strikes. The disaster workers, FEMA responders and others who come to help in Puerto Rico were “good people” he said. “But the system was broken.”
One audience member who raised her hand for the Q&A portion didn’t actually have a question: She was a FEMA worker who had been sent to Puerto Rico and came to his talk to thank him for all of his help.
Andrés, who is from Spain, joked that the afternoon had been very good for his spirits since his favorite soccer team, Barcelona, failed to make it to the Champions League final.
He also used the occasion to promote his plan to make June 25 Anthony Bourdain Day and asked diners to eat out at their favorite restaurant that day in memory of Bourdain, who died last year.