(CNN) — José Andrés’ memoir “We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time” was published in September 2018, mere months after Anthony Bourdain’s premature death. Reading it, one can’t help but think of Tony and the friendship between the compassionate chefs.
Part homage to the comfort-food of the unsung Spanish region, part a tale of the like-minded men’s friendship, the hour is filled with lots of laughter and plenty of cider.
Much more than chefs
Both Bourdain and Andrés have donned chef’s whites, and, of course, Andrés’ work in the kitchen remains a central part of his established career as a restauranteur, but both men were always much more than chefs too.
Andrés, like Bourdain, cares about experiencing the world, learning about other cultures, and helping and influencing where he can.
In one Asturias scene, Andrés says to Bourdain: “You show all of us that it’s worth it to go to the end of the world for the right food and for the right stories,” and what’s left unspoken is the fact that Andrés’ work in Puerto Rico is a deliberate attempt to right the story. It’s not unlike the way that Bourdain, through his travels to places near and far, places that seemingly no one else cared to venture, was his attempt to tell a different kind of story. To show the world that we are, all of us, different yet the same.
In this excerpt from Andres’ memoir, it’s not difficult to understand the deep bond that existed between the two. Not only do both have a profound way with words, but each believes there’s an obligation to fight for others.
‘A beacon of hope’
There’s something fundamental about food; about preparing cooking and eating together. It’s what binds us; it’s how we build community. Eating isn’t functional. Food relief shouldn’t be either. Whether I am cooking for Washingtonians or refugees, my job as a chef is the same: to feed the many. Whether I am creating an avant-garde meal that deconstructs your idea of a familiar meal, or a giant pot of rice and chicken that fills your belly, I believe in the transformational power of cooking.
A plate of food is much more than food. It sends a message that someone far away cares about you; that you are not on your own. It’s a beacon of hope that maybe somewhere, something good is happening. It’s the hope that America will become America again. That is what a plate of food is. It’s a message from every man and woman on my team saying that we care, that we haven’t forgotten, and it allows those in despair to have a little bit more patience, for one more day.
‘A new model of food relief’
As I developed my vision for a new model of food relief, I learned a profound lesson from my mentor Robert Egger, who is America’s leading advocate on food issues. “Too often,” he said, “charity is about the redemption of the giver, not the liberation of the receiver.” I do believe that food relief should help liberate the receiver, and that far too often, it has been defined and delivered to redeem the giver. We need to build a new model of disaster relief and food aid that understands the needs and desires of the receiver, and we need to do that right now…
Although each disaster is different and each one is complex, the priorities are simple. There is no recovery to manage, and no citizens to govern, if we cannot get water and food to the people. And yet, if you ask around — and believe me, I did — there is nobody, and no single organization, in charge of feeding the people. The experts tell me that everyone is in charge, but what I have seen is that means nobody is in charge. Food relief is not just a question of results and accountability. It is a moral necessity. As Tom Joad says in Steinbeck’s classic from the Great Depression, “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.”
This is a story of our fight so hungry people could eat. We didn’t feed them as much as we wanted. But we were there, even though we were never supposed to be.
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