José Andrés (center) cooking in Puerto Rico.(Eric Rojas / The New York Times)

José Andrés (center) cooking in Puerto Rico.(Eric Rojas / The New York Times)

April 30, 2020

Recipes For The People: A Hot Plate of Food When It’s Needed Most

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Two weeks ago, I came across a video on Twitter called #RecipesForThePeople. It was a cooking video posted by José Andrés, a Spanish-American chef and founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters.

In this six minute clip, Andrés and his daughters made angel hair pasta and tomato sauce as they sang and danced their way through Hamilton. The internet went crazy — from, “I did not think I could love José Andrés more. I was wrong. ,” to, “Love this so much, but I was seriously worried you were gonna catch the towel on fire! Thanks to you and your family for cooking with @HamiltonMusical!.” Another viewer said, “How can you NOT fall in love with this amazing human?” Meanwhile, others asked, “Was the garlic not peeled?!?!”

At the beginning of the video, Andrés, donning his iconic “Immigrants Feed America” shirt, explains the rules of the game, “We try to find out how long the song is and then do a recipe that everybody can do.” His daughter Carlota clarifies, “But within those minutes!”

Before they begin, Andrés explains something important, “The Italians call it Pasta Pomodoro — I don’t know.” He shrugs that suggestion off and insists, “Spanish people — you know we invented tomato sauce. Yes everybody knows that!”

The ingredients, all set out, are tomatoes, spinach, some cheese (whatever you have), garlic, olive oil and salt. “We go!” Andrés’s daughters turn on “You’ll Be Back”, a song from Hamilton performed by Jonathan Groff (King George), and Andrés quickly throws in the angel hair pasta. “In three minutes and a half, you will be ready to eat,” he promises us. As the pasta begins to cook, Andrés throws a bunch of garlic into a pot. The olive oil goes next. “The garlic starts dancing, and he dances to the rhythm of the music,” Andrés sings, personifying the garlic. The tomato goes in. “Boom.” Salt goes in. Sugar goes in. “Little sugar. Not much.”

“Spinach into the water,” he directs Carlota. She throws the spinach into the pasta by accident, but she quickly rescues it. The tomato sauce begins to simmer. “Times are hard — but together, singing and cooking, we can go through anything. One day at a time, one recipe at a time, things will be better in America.”

Three minutes pass. Andrés grabs the pasta pot and throws it into the tomato sauce. 15 seconds later, the song ends, the cheese and black pepper go into the pasta and the meal is done!  “Oh my God, the pasta is al dente. The tomato. The spinach. You taste it.” Andrés tastes it. “Oh my God.” More salt. More pepper. “And this is ready to be eaten.”

I first heard about José Andrés two years ago during Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category 5 hurricane that devastated Dominica, St Croix and Puerto Rico in September 2017. Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster in recorded history to affect those islands and was also the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Jeanne in 2004. When Andrés heard the news, he rushed down to Puerto Rico. As his plane approached San Juan, there was devastation as far as the eye could see. Roofs were ripped off many homes — peeled open like tin cans. Trees were toppled for miles on end or stripped of every leaf.

Andrés immediately started cooking. Alongside José Enrique, a Puerto Rican chef from San Juan, they began cooking sancocho, a Caribbean version of the Spanish cocido, brought to the region from the original colonial settlers who passed through the Canary Islands. By the time the dish became a favorite of the Caribbean, it had shifted to a meat-based stew, often featuring lots of different meats, corn and a mix of vegetables. “When you eat sancocho, you think of your grandmother, and it puts a smile on your face,” says Enrique.

Word spread, and they were soon feeding thousands from Enrique’s restaurant in San Juan. A month later, Andrés was feeding millions across the island as part of #ChefsForPuertoRico, the group he created to grow the effort.

Now, two years later, we are in the middle of another disaster. Andrés is back. His group, World Central Kitchen, is feeding three million people in cities hardest hit by COVID-19.

The mission? A hot plate of food when it’s needed most.

“Our fate as a nation depends on how we feed our most vulnerable citizens through this crisis. If our leaders step up now with federal aid, food can be the solution — supporting millions of jobs, while also feeding millions of people in desperate need,” Andrés recently wrote.

If this message resonates with you, especially if you are young and healthy, I encourage you to volunteer for World Central Kitchen and help feed America.

Best wishes to you all and happy cooking!

 

Jack Waxman is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jwaxman@cornellsun.com.