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June 24, 2019

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Chef and humanitarian José Andrés on covering more than the blind spots and betting big on Las Vegas

Jose Andres


José Andrés chats with guests at Bazaar Meat on December 10.

Spanish-born, Washington, D.C.-based chef and restaurateur José Andrés has been widely recognized and honored for his work through his nonprofit organization World Central Kitchen, which provides meals in the wake of natural disasters and other crises. Those efforts could soon change his title from “chef and restaurateur” to “Nobel Peace Prize winner” as he’s been nominated for the 2019 humanitarian honor.

Despite becoming the face of disaster relief following his prominent work in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Andrés remains humble and dedicated. He bounces from city to city to continue his work with World Central Kitchen and his Think Food Group hospitality company, which operates the Jaleo, é by José Andrés, China Poblano and Bazaar Meat restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip.

I caught up with Andrés for a quick chat during Monday’s VIP tasting event at Bazaar Meat at SLS Las Vegas to discuss his ongoing relief efforts, his future in Las Vegas and his recent Tweet about his hometown NFL team.

After you’ve been traveling the world and feeding those in need, is it a different experience to come to Las Vegas for a special restaurant event?

No, it’s the same. It’s a moment to mingle and see the locals and not-so-locals that go to our other restaurants. It’s always fun, always good. I’ve been doing this all my life so it’s really nothing new, it’s only changed a bit lately because we’ve done a few very big things that were never supposed to happen but they did happen. I guess we are becoming [known] more and more as an organization that serves those situations.

In your book “We Fed an Island,” you write about embracing complexity as a way to handle those chaotic situations. Is that approach born out of working in the chaos of a kitchen or is it deeper than that?

Well, I have been doing it for a long time. We became good at it. More people noticed it really after Puerto Rico but we’ve been doing it for a long time. We [set out] to become something to cover the blind spots but we’re going beyond blind spots to cover other shelters and partner with the Red Cross and things like that. We keep adapting. It was created not as an organization to feel good but an organization that is needed, and now we have so many people that have joined us so it’s becoming fairly easy.

I heard you finally got to meet Alex Meruelo, the new owner of the SLS Las Vegas, before tonight’s event. How’d that go?

Good. He’s a good guy and he’s done big things before. I believe he has strong plans for what he wants to do for this property. Bazaar [Meat] has been a very big success story for this property from the beginning. We bet in a big way on it and I think it’s paying off.

Bazaar Meat has been very popular despite the ups and downs at SLS.

When I build restaurants I build them with the idea to bring something new and I think this is a very cool place. I think there’s a long life for this restaurant here. We like to really be a part of things and we bet on things for a reason and to see it successful four years later is a good feeling. In the end, there are a lot of families and people that live out of the success of not only this restaurants but this entire property, so when I see ownership that is engaged and trying to make something good out of it, it’s very easy to keep me engaged. I think Bazaar Meat has a long life here, and maybe we will do other things, who knows.

Speaking of ownership, you’re not really going to try to buy the Washington Redskins, are you?

Well, I have plenty of friends that have the cash. I think a team is more than good players. I think a team is about many other things — values, being a part of the city and the state and the people. Quite frankly I would not say the Redskins have done a very good job on that part. I love the team but the ownership has not been at the same level as the fans. Good teams usually come as a consequence of good ownership and good fans all at once and I think what we’re seeing is that one part of the three legs is broken.