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Restaurant Show
Jose Andres at the National Restaurant Association Show Joanna Fantozzi
Jose Andres entertained and inspired crowds at The Restaurant Show keynote discussion.

José Andrés reminds operators of their crucial community role at Restaurant Show keynote

Andres discussed making opportunities from mistakes, getting back to basics, and leaning into the global responsibility

Chef, restaurateur, and Nobel Peace Prize-nominated global humanitarian, José Andrés, was the keynote speaker at the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. Despite his many accolades throughout his career, both as a chef and in his frontline food relief work with World Central Kitchen, Andrés emphasized the importance of simplicity, humility, and community in every restaurant operator’s lives and careers.

As an example of how chefs and restaurant owners need to roll with the punches and learn from their mistakes, Andrés told a story of how he was cooking a Spanish omelette live on TV, when he flipped the omelette high in the air, and it hit the camera equipment and was ruined. 

“When things don’t go as planned, you can feel like you are a failure, or you can change the name of the recipe,” he said, adding that on TV he acted like he was showing the audience what to make out of a broken omelette. “It shows that, even in failure, you have to keep going.”

While it’s true that you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs (especially if you flip a Spanish omelette on live television), one of the most crucial aspects to Andrés’ success, at least on the culinary side, is to honor your heritage and not dumb down cuisine for the average American palate. Andrés’ said he once asked his mentor about introducing Spanish cuisine to the American people and asked if he should change it for different tastes:

“Do I Americanize it? No, I do Spanish cooking the way people in Spain would be proud of,” he said. “I ask myself, ‘would my grandmother be proud of this dish before serving it?’ Sometimes keeping things fresh is about getting back to the basics.”

Of course, Andrés is well-known for more than just his Spanish cuisine at iconic restaurants like Jaleo and The Bazaar in the Washington, D.C. area and beyond. As a keynote speaker, the chef and humanitarian spoke about the importance of operators embracing their role on the global stage, as facilitators of community, and arbiters of change. 

“The word restaurant comes from the Latin word that means, ‘to restore’, so…how do we make sure our restaurants restore people?” Andrés said. “There are not many professions that unite so many parts of society…restaurants are beacons of hope.”

Andrés then encouraged the operators in the audience to look beyond themselves and their operations to use their platforms to make a difference in their communities. His famous non-profit organization, World Central Kitchen, for example, was founded out of D.C. Central Kitchen, which was created by a bartender as a solution for food waste at a local restaurant. What started out as a cost-saving measure and an opportunity to give back, then turned into a way to feed the homeless population of the nation’s capital, and give people within the industry a new purpose. 

“This is the power of food,” Andrés said. “We can handle our businesses, but then we can do far more.” 

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

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