For chef and restauranteur José Andrés, food is political – or at least it should be.
“Food has to become a more important topic from now on,” Andrés told David Axelrod on “The Axe Files,” a podcast from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN. “When a congressman or senator is trying to run for (office), we need to start asking, ‘what is your food plan for America?’”
“Food can be solving hunger issues, food can be solving health issues, food can be creating huge wealth,” he continued. “Food should be a more important topic even on the presidential (elections) as well.”
Andrés spoke of food as a unifying force for good. It is an ethos he has channeled into humanitarian efforts, such as his work with DC Central Kitchen and his trip he took to feed thousands devastated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
“Our group of chefs, we already have a plan to be ready to be feeding Americans” in the event of another hurricane in Puerto Rico, Andrés told Axelrod. “The very least we can be doing, to show that we care for them, for every American is … to bring a humble plate of food. We cannot solve every problem, but at least we will be there to try to make sure that food is not part of the problem.”
The simplicity of an idea like that – feed as many people as possible — is one that Andrés suggested that he would like to see from the nation’s lawmakers.
“You can, Republican and Democrat, you can be whatever you want, but you respect each other and you believe that together we’re going to be stronger,” he said. “And in the moment you arrive to that simple conclusion, everything is simple.”
“That’s why maybe we need to have more chefs in the Senate and Congress, because you’ll be a beautiful table like this one where everybody will be sharing a plate of food, and right there having conversations about how we should be investing more time on what brings us together, not in what makes us different and breaks us apart,” he added.
However, when asked whether he would ever run for office, Andrés played coy.
Nonetheless, for Andrés, the connection between his personal politics and his food has become increasingly public during the political rise of Donald Trump. The chef made headlines in July 2015 when he backed out of an agreement to put a restaurant in the Trump Organization’s new hotel in Washington, DC, over disparaging comments then-candidate Trump made about Mexican immigrants.
Andrés, who emigrated to the US from Spain, said he had conversations with Trump around that time.
“I remember him calling me and telling me, ‘Jose, we’re winning, we’re winning,’” Andrés told Axelrod. “I’m like, ‘Mr. Trump, I’m not running on your ticket. I only want to open a successful restaurant and you with your comments, you are disparaging the same immigrants and Hispanics I am. I owe myself to those same Hispanics. My success is on the shoulders of those immigrants.’”
The Trump organization sued Andrés for breach of contract in August 2015, and the lawsuit was settled in April 2017.
Although Andrés noted that both he and Trump got what they wanted in settling of the suit, the chef has continued to take the President to task over his rhetoric on immigration, ending of the DACA program protecting children brought to the US as undocumented immigrants, and his desire to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
“The reality is these we have 11 million undocumented,” Andrés said. “They are part of the DNA of America. We have ‘Dreamers,’ super prepared Americans, they came here when they were babies. Immigration and immigration reform is not a problem for us to solve. It’s an opportunity for America to see.”
“I believe that one day all day immigrants and especially the undocumented … one day they’ll say we’re going to stop doing anything until you recognize who we are, that we are not ghosts in the system but real people contributing to the American dream.”