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José Andrés Shares His Pump-Up Song, His Last Good Cry, and the One Quality He Shares With Donald Trump

The restaurateur and humanitarian is #1 on our Best of Washington ranking.
Photo of José Andrés by Evy Mages.

In the latest issue of Washingtonian, we ranked the 87 best things about living in the DC area right now. Number 1? José Andrés. He’s a chef and restaurateur, yes, but he’s better known as a humanitarian and Trump foil lately. Go ahead and call him a hometown hero. We sat down with Andrés over pisco sours at China Chilcano for a wide-ranging Q&A covering his outlook on the Wizards, the last time he ate McDonald’s, and what he would cook for the President.

Do you consider yourself more of a chef or a humanitarian these days?

A cook, which allows you to do both.

Describe your job in one sentence.

Cheerleader.

What was your first job?

Loading cherries from the farms into trucks. I probably was 12. All my friends were children of farmers.

What do you think when people call you a hero?

You know, it’s very humbling, but I know better because I am out there. So many people are doing it 24/7, in every single continent, with very little pay, leaving everything behind, helping so many. And they don’t get any spotlight, so my main role has been always trying to showcase others, the ones who really make it happen.

Who’s your hero?

Oof, it’s unfair to mention just one. But I can tell you Loune in Haiti who runs the hospital of Partners in Health. I would not call it an orphanage because J.K. Rowling will get upset with me; It’s really a home for children. They are all disabled mentally or physically, and she created this kind of amazing place in the middle of mayhem, and I am very happy I am able to help them. But Lune would be one those unbelievable women.

What is a quality that you admire most in others?

Not giving up.

What’s a quality that you admire most in yourself?

Perseverance. I always tell people that you have to persevere to achieve things. I persevere. I’m here 25 years later. And when I began, I was not in control of my life like I am now.

What’s one quality that you think you share with Donald Trump?

I believe in myself.

If you could cook one dish for Trump, what would you want it to be?

I would cook a dish where every single ingredient was picked by undocumented workers all across America. Without them, we wouldn’t have all those foods in America.

When’s the last time you ate at McDonald’s?

My daughters always trick me for research. Every time they feel there’s a new product, they will tell me ‘Daddy, let’s try the new product.’ And that’s what happens often with fast food. So McDonald’s was running the fresh meat [never frozen] burger—and I didn’t finish it. But I’m not against it.

When when is the last time that you cried?

Somewhere around beginning of October in San Juan in Puerto Rico on a rainy day. That day it was raining heavily in many parts in the mountains, and people were getting wet because they didn’t have blue tarps. And the sad thing is that we were talking about how lucky we were because at least they had rain drinking water. And that made me cry.

What was the last show you binged on?

The last season of Homeland. I never watch any of those without being on my Elliptical. Every series I watch is usually on my Elliptical. What else? Obviously, Game of Thrones. I’m a big freak of that like many.

What’s your drink?

The one I have in front of me. I’m a very open guy.

What’s your pump-up song?

Oof. That’s forever changing. When we got four stars at the Bazaar in LA, the song became “Whatever You Like” from T.I.

What’s one thing you always splurge on?

Around January, around February, there’s this farm in Ojai [California] that has these kishu mandarins, and there’s not many farms that have kishus. Super quick season. They go from perfect to rotten very quickly. I did a trip with my daughters and my wife to ask the farmer to sell me more than one case per season. And those kishus are expensive. You’re talking about one clementine, I’m paying north of two, three dollars. Seems nothing, but when you’re buying a bulk, it’s a lot of money. They are life-changing. We spend a few thousand every season.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

That the best business is the one you say “no” to.

What’s the best advice you think you’ve given your daughters?

Don’t be like your dad. Be your own.

Where do you go to be alone?

I will go to my little garden outside the house and just take care of the garden and plants, do the compost. But then, when I can, I go to the region I was born. I go to Asturias, [Spain], and I get in the car, and I go to this lake in the top of the mountains near where my mother and father married. There you have a lake, and the only thing you will find, especially if you go in winter, is lake, mountains, and a few cows—and nobody else. I always try to go there, and I bring some cheese with me that is from those mountains and some cider. I sit there in the pastures. I look at the clouds. I look at the mountains. And I look at the lake and the cows.

What’s one thing that people complain about too much?

As a chef, when people complain too much about how expensive restaurants are. If you feel something is expensive, then stay home. Go to the supermarket, and you do it on your own. And chances are that what you’re about to cook—that you’re trying to recreate [from] the restaurant—you’re going to end up spending much more money and not being as good as if you came to the restaurant.

Restaurants we forget are the most complicated business on the face of Earth. The percentage of restaurants that go down the drain is enormous compared to other businesses. If I could do a restaurant half the price and have it full and still make money, would you not think I would not do it?

What’s something that you believe that other people think is crazy?

That we can change the world through the power of food. But more specifically, that we can end hunger and poverty in the 21st century. I do believe we can.

Where do the Wizards go from here?

Up. The great thing is that the Wizards, we have the best ownership on the face of earth. It’s a family with integrity that probably Daniel Snyder could be learning from.

Twitter or Instagram?

I’m a Twitter boy.

Wake up early or stay out late?

I always say stay out late because tomorrow, God will say, you know? Who knows.

Uber or Lyft?

I’m enjoying subway so much lately. So many more things happen. When you take the Metro, you are more in sync with what happens in the world. But they need to fix the cellphone signal so you can do work on the subway.

Jake Tapper or Anderson Cooper?

Shit, that’s a difficult one. I mean, I have to go with Anderson, but I love both. Lately it seems like every time it’s trouble and it’s a hurricane, Anderson is there, and I’m there, and I always find him.

Poke or cupcakes?

Poke all the way. I don’t care if they say it’s cultural appropriation, poke all the way.

Crab or lobster?

Oh, shit. I’ll go with crabs, all the way. But never in summer—only in winter. The best crabs happen in the colder water.

Would you ever consider running for political office?

I wouldn’t mind running for senator of Maryland, 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.

Probably if I run, I would not run on any platform. I would run independent. We got a Congress totally controlled by Democrats, and we didn’t pass immigration reform. And we got a Congress now totally controlled by Republicans, and we are not passing immigration reform. Immigration reform, I would say it is no problem for us to solve. It’s an opportunity for America to seize.

So, I’m 48 now. Who knows? But why not? 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.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Loune’s name. It has since been updated.

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.