José Andrés sure sounds like a political candidate. Last night, the restaurateur-turned-activist was named Humanitarian of the Year at the James Beard Awards for his work with World Central Kitchen feeding Puerto Ricans pummeled by Hurricane Maria. After a video intro from Hillary Clinton and an impassioned speech about the contributions of undocumented immigrants “who feed America and make our country great,” the crowd was wild with chatter about Andrés for President.
“I want to vote for him for something,” said emcee Carla Hall.
As it turns out, Andrés actually is think running for office. Just don’t expect a Oprah-Andrés ticket in 2020.
“I wouldn’t mind running for senator of Maryland,” Andrés, a resident of Bethesda, told Washingtonian last week. “Because I think we’re in need of shaping Congress. I consider myself a Millennial, and I think we are going to need more young people on the right and on the left, people of respect and understanding.”
Andrés says he’s been encouraged as more and more people urge him to run for office. “I’m 48 now, so who knows. But, why not?,” he says. “If I don’t see things get better in terms of understanding, maybe we need a chef in the capital that can bring everybody to the table and start having these kinds of honorable conversations. We know that at a table, good things happen.” (“Bringing Everyone to the Table” sounds like a pretty good campaign slogan to us.)
Andrés says he would likely run as an independent. He points out that neither a Democratic nor Republican Congress has been able to pass real immigration reform. “This goes beyond right or left,” he says. “This is about inclusion, exclusion, and we are becoming a Congress of exclusion—you are with me or you are not. We need to make it more of inclusion.”
As for exactly when Andrés might run? He’s vague, demurring, “I need to learn more English. One day. One day… Maybe it will never happen, but I think everybody should be thinking about it. Every single man and especially woman should think that one day they should become senators and congressmen.”
Andrés’s political profile has been growing for some time, but his legal battle with Donald Trump‘s DC hotel thrust him in the spotlight. The restaurateur pulled his fine-dining eatery from the Pennsylvania Avenue property after Trump’s controversial remarks about immigrants—”they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists”— at the launch of the presidential campaign. The lawsuit settled a year ago, but ever since, Andrés has been needling Trump on Twitter and elsewhere, particularly on the issue of immigration. During the 2016 election, the native Spaniard and American citizen of five years stumped with Clinton.
— James Beard Foundation (@beardfoundation) May 8, 2018
Andrés’s political cred was further bolstered by his organization’s work in Puerto Rico. His World Central Kitchen team prepared more than 3 million meals for hurricane victims, outperforming the Red Cross. He’s already working on a book called We Fed an Island about how his team made such a big impact amid a national disaster.
The James Beard speech accepting an honor for that work seemed to hint at what candidate Andrés might sound like. He tearfully thanked his wife, Patricia (“My life, my sunrise, my sunset, my horizon”). He thanked his fellow chefs on the ground in Puerto Rico. He revealed a secret admiration for Red Cross founder Clara Barton and unsung female American heroes. He acknowledged Dreamers and the hard work of undocumented immigrants. He quoted The Grapes of Wrath. He reimagined a quote from the Grapes of Wrath and made it better (sorry, Steinbeck).
“I have a message for every man, woman, and child that we care,” said Andrés. “We haven’t forgotten. We are here for you. If you are hungry we will feed you. They don’t want our pity. We want our respect, and sometimes a plate of food is all the respect they need.”