What Took You So Long?
Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 | 5:04 p.m.
Star chef Jose Andres will debut a one-hour special on PBS this Sunday. The author, TV host and philanthropist explores Haiti with fellow star chef Mario Batali and former President Bill Clinton for the National Geographic special.
“Undiscovered: Haiti with Jose Andres” gives viewers the opportunity to see Haiti through the chef’s eyes. As founder of World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit bringing smart solutions to hunger and poverty in developing nations, Jose is no stranger to Haiti.
After the devastating January 2010 earthquake hit, Jose, who has restaurants here at the Cosmopolitan and SLS, flew to Haiti to cook for those in need. Through “Undiscovered,” he shares with viewers the history, culture, cuisine and natural beauty of the often-overlooked nation.
He says: “This is what Haiti needs. Not our pity, but our respect. And our feet on the ground.”
“Undiscovered” airs on PBS stations nationwide. To many, it’s Jose’s personal exploration of the most unknown — and, some say, the most beautiful — country in the Caribbean. Most Americans know Haiti only through its earthquake, hurricane and poverty.
Jose is convinced that we can change the world through food and understand a culture by exploring what, when and how its people eat. He experiences traditions and rituals of Haiti, from making cassava bread to midnight gatherings with voodoo priests.
He dives into Haiti’s beauty in ancient waterfalls and along the country‘s coastline. He hunts for land crabs and mushrooms in its forests and tastes local specialties in Port-Au-Prince. Jose reports the history behind Haiti’s historic sites and hosts a tour of a 150-year-old rum factory.
“It’s a lush jewel of the Caribbean,” he told me. “When the earthquake hit, I was desperate to go there and help. In the process, I fell in love with the very soul of Haiti, its people, the food and the culture. I want people to get to know the real and undiscovered Haiti, where you can have the trip of a lifetime.
“In the spirit of adventure and exploration, you’ll follow me into the heart of this mysterious island through its unique cuisine to discover the history and culture — and see into the future — of a proud and rarely understood people.”
Since the earthquake, Jose has traveled there 20 times, brought clean cookware and started a bakery and restaurant. He told me: “I realized, identified that Haiti was like a NASA mission. There were big challenges and problems: hunger, cholera, and that had to change on a grand scale.
“I thought that we had to start changing the way we tell the stories of the good of the world. I’ve tried to show the hidden beauty of Haiti that nobody seems to be aware of — this is the way to move forward. I thought that the show will showcase the beauty of the country. The people want the story to be told, and that’s why I did the documentary.
“I was most surprised by the resilience of the people there, and you will see that in the television special. You will see very proud visions of their roots, of who they are, their possibilities. You will see a country that is ready for change, for education, you will see a country with a difficult history, you will see a country that is there waiting for us to show up.”
I asked Jose what it was like filming there with Mario and Bill. “It was fun. Mario is one of the guys who at the end says he came to Haiti with one idea and is leaving with a totally different viewpoint,” said Jose. ”We know that he loves Haiti.
“For many years, Haiti has had its fair share of issues, but I do believe we had to start by showing the problems — problems always are going to happen — but then we solve them, and it becomes more about the people and places they call home.
“I’ve been coming to Haiti for many years. My time spent in Haiti has changed me. When I see the life I have and I see the life of some of the people in Haiti and they seem always to be perfectly clean, perfectly with a smile, willing to help … this has made a big change in me. Resilience and looking forward to a better life and future.
“The highlight of the special is that viewers are going to be highly surprised about Haiti being on this upward path of overcoming adversity of the worst kind. A country that is less than two hours from Miami and that is going to show off its a beauty in the Caribbean. It’s going to change so much of the mental picture we have of Haiti. The show is only trying to bring the best of Haiti forward so people are aware of the reality.
“There are issues, but there are opportunities. Airlines are flying every day to Haiti, hotels are being built, and multi-national businesses are opening. The infrastructure slowly but surely keeps happening. If we want to help people out of poverty in Haiti, this is our DNA. Tourism can be part of the solution.
“I already have a restaurant there and an orphanage and a bakery. I have many projects in Haiti right now. Investing in those things is investing in the people of Haiti. I believe in the potential of the people, and I hope this show will only be the beginning of showing the beauty of a country that is ready to start playing in the big leagues.”
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
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