"I tell stories through restaurants". Jose Manuel Calderón talks with chef José Andrés

"I tell stories through restaurants". Jose Manuel Calderón talks with chef José Andrés

May 28, 2024

In the latest episode of UNIQ, Private Conversations, we invited none other than José Andrés, the Spanish chef and philanthropist, to our table. He is one of the most esteemed and admired chefs of our day and an exceedingly generous person who helps those most in need. Within the last year alone, his charitable work has earned him both the Princess of Asturias Award for Concord and a staggering $100 million cash grant from Jeff Bezos.

José Andrés has become a model chef and restaurateur, but his path to success was not always easy. He had the dream to travel the world and began his journey in the United States with just $50 in his pocket. From those humble beginnings, he has gone on to found the Think Food Group, a company that’s launched 20 restaurants across the US and popularized the concept of tapas and shared food across the US.

“I tell stories through restaurants”

This one-of-a-kind man has also spent a good part of his life giving back to the community. At 23 years old, he began volunteering at the DC Central Kitchen, which gives food to people in need. Years later, in 2010, he decided to take that concept global and founded his own NGO called World Central Kitchen. Through it, he helps feed thousands of people each year in the immediate aftermath of some of the world's worst natural disasters or other crises.

Speaking with the former NBA player and current UNIQ host José Manuel Calderón, José Andrés talks about leadership, the importance of teamwork and overcoming personal goals. As he has done for so many others, he filled us with inspiration and the motivation to make our dreams come true.

The recipe for turning dreams into reality

José Andrés highlighted the importance of celebrating the defeats that will inevitably crop up along the path of continuous learning and self-improvement. At the end of the day, he says life is about jumping from failure to failure but always moving forward with a bit more wisdom and motivation.

“What makes me the proudest has been my ability to get back up with enthusiasm, the enthusiasm to overcome the problems of the past and turn them into opportunities.”

From the time he served in Spain’s compulsory military service in his youth, José Andrés realized the importance of the collective. Throughout the conversation, that was one of the areas he emphasized most strongly — how the excellence of individuals gets amplified when they work together as an organism. José Andrés helped us see the importance of having flat structures and tearing down hierarchical pyramids to make sure that everyone’s voice and the best ideas are heard.

“The power of the group and the power of listening to a lot of different people is what could lead us to truly achieving a better society, a better world.”

The agility of small organizations

Just a few days after Hurricane Dorian devastated a large part of the north of the Bahamas, José Andrés and his team were there distributing 80,000 meals per day on 14 different islands. During these catastrophes, when even the biggest companies were brought to their knees, he realized the power that small organizations have because of their agility.

He says we are on a planet where we produce more than we need. We already have the solutions, but are lacking the will to apply them. He says we should move away from talk and start making change through even the smallest of actions.

“The problems are global, but the solutions will vary for each community.”

Providing food and water: A clear mission for all

Another fundamental concept that was discussed in the conversation is the importance of common missions. He said goals must be clear, simple and the same for everyone. If that can be achieved, “everything else will start to fall into place,” he said.

He said that clear missions are what have allowed World Central Kitchen to successfully work in unison with both big and small communities around the globe.

“When the mission is clear, everyone becomes part of the team, and that makes each person very powerful.”

For José Andrés, the kitchen is a space that has given him and helped him give so much. But it’s not the only one. His passion for learning and challenging himself has introduced a diverse range of hobbies into his life, and in those activities, he also gives it his all to keep improving and having fun.

“I’m passionate about discovering, learning and trying to get better.”