The Purpose Driven Chef

joe shymanski

A man in constant motion, Chef José Andrés makes every day count.

A man in constant motion, Chef José Andrés makes every day count.

Complex and compassionate, Chef José Andrés is a brilliant chef, consummate food visionary, gifted entrepreneur, and leader of the impressive $120 million Think Food Group. From avant-garde Spanish cooking at Jaleo to the imaginative, artistic cuisine at Washington's elite minibar to the brilliantly successful restaurants inside SLS Hotels, Chef Andrés has dramatically impacted how America eats. But his iconic restaurant empire is just the first layer of accomplishments for a man whose life and passionate commitments span education, philosophy, politics, and—of course—feeding the hungry. He recently talked with FSR about the opportunities and responsibilities that can empower chefs to shape a better world.

You've led a lecture series at Harvard on science and cooking, and taught "The World on a Plate: How Food Shapes Civilization" at George Washington University. How does food shape civilization?

It's only two things we do from the day we are born till the day we die, which is breathing and eating. One we do unconsciously and the other we do very consciously. Eating is very much at the heart of who we are. So we need to understand [that] to feed every one of us—and in order to feed humanity—we have to understand that food is at the intersection of almost everything.

Food is at the heart of reshaping history and historic elements. And to a degree, food has always been at the heart of national security. Past civilizations have been doomed by not having control of food sources, or by losing farmland control. Today, we see entire regions and countries on the edge of war because of food shortages.

Food is at the heart of science. Everything can be explained through food; physics and chemistry can be explained through using food as an example of where things happen. That was the idea of the class that Harvard began on food and physics.

Talking about physics often brings up the trendy concept of molecular gastronomy, but how do you describe the relationship of food and science?

Molecular is not a term we use; we've been doing avant-garde Spanish cooking. In the end, we cook with avocados and carrots and bananas, and we don't cook with anything strange. The only different thing is that now, more often than not, we have bigger control and understanding of what is happening, and we use the opportunities and possibilities to do other things.

Physics are just a small part of the equation—sometimes we learn from farmers, sometimes we learn from scientists, sometimes we learn from artists. Sometimes we learn from anywhere that there is learning to do, so science is one more part of it.



I am sorry but did you say you don't cook with anything strange in avant-garde cooking? I beg to differ. What about the use of liquid nitrogen or calcium lactate, iota carrageenan, Ultra-Tex 3, tapioca maltodextrin, soy lecithin, sodium alginate, low-acyl gellan gum and xanthan gum. And now some more normal ingredients but still on the far side, such as agar agar, eucalyptus oil, akudjura powder, sassafras extract, glucose. I think this partial list gets my point across, that in avant-garde or molecular gastronomy, whatever you want to call it or not call it, the use of strange cooking ingredients are being used in Spain and in the USA. But then again what is strange?


Add new comment