When it comes to feeding a world in need, empathy is the key ingredient. And with these two cooking (on Skype) together, you know it's going to be good.

By Kerry Diamond
Updated May 07, 2020 @ 9:00 am
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From top: Andrés at home in Washington, D.C. Miranda at home in N.Y.C.’s Washington Heights. Photo: courtesy

Given all that’s going on in the world, a good old-fashioned bromance feels oddly reassuring — especially when it’s between two hermanos with heart: Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Broadway megastar behind Hamilton and In the Heights, and José Andrés, the acclaimed chef and leader of World Central Kitchen, which has produced millions of meals over the past several weeks in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

They are fond of retweeting each other’s good works — whether it’s the sweatshirts Miranda curated to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS or Andrés’s hunger-relief efforts throughout New York City — and even vacation together with their families. Miranda and his father, Luis, co-wrote the foreword for Andrés’s book, We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time, about World Central Kitchen’s remarkable response to Hurricane Maria in 2017. And then there is #RecipesForThePeople — hilarious Instagram videos in which Andrés cooks with his daughters while singing along to the Hamilton soundtrack and enjoying a glass of wine. “Boom!” he yells at them. “Let’s go! It’s for today!”

Andrés himself has a life story worthy of a Miranda musical. In 1990, he was on board to work for his best friend (and future celebrity chef) Ferran Adrià at El Bulli, the gastronomic temple that would go on to garner three Michelin stars, on Spain’s Costa Brava. But after an ill-fated meeting with Adrià, Andrés was fired, and he moved to New York instead with just $50 in his pocket. Over the next 30 years, he built a restaurant empire that stretches from Washington, D.C., to Las Vegas to Disney World, then became the person everyone turns to during a crisis and found himself nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

How did this Spanish line cook, a son of two nurses, grow up to be a hero and a statesman? When posed with this question, Andrés, who can be very modest for someone with so much bravado, shrugs. “I only light the fire,” he says. “If anything, I give the push. Then it’s amazing men and women and — boom! — they are doing it. We’re all in this together, and everybody’s doing their part — everybody here, Lin, and so many others. And if we all do our part a little bit more, we’re going to take care of this. We will.”

What follows is an excerpt from their chat over Skype.

Andrés in Puerto Rico in 2019. Photo: courtesy

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Maestro! Chef! Good to see you!

JOSÉ ANDRÉS: Hello, Lin! What are you drinking?

LMM: Una Coca-Cola. [laughs]

JA: Ah, like a commercial.

LMM: Cafeína, porque ya tomé mi café por el día [caffeine, because I already drank my coffee for the day] and I’m trying to ration the coffee.

JA: Coffee! Puerto Rican coffee, I’m having today.

LMM: Well, I’m very proud of you. Speaking of Puerto Rico, we met actually during Hurricane Maria. We were both kind of signal-boosting from our respective departments in the world on Twitter. I just remember being struck by how you were getting to places that we hadn’t heard from. And you were filming these dispatches from where you were setting up places to serve food. And then I think I DM’d you, and you sent me a message about our friend Erin Schrode, who was on your team, because she knows all the words to In the Heights.

JA: She does.

LMM: It was such a crazy time, and you experienced it firsthand.

Andrés in Oakland, Calif., where the Grand Princess cruise ship was docked with quarantined passengers in March. Photo: courtesy

JA: I still remember the day that you and many others landed in San Juan bringing hope, bringing a message of love. You also brought money and things that were needed, like water. I realized that every gesture in these situations matters in ways that we don’t even understand. I connected to you and all your amazing family through Hurricane Maria. And all of a sudden, my family was like, “Wow, you look like you’ve been friends forever.” And you sent us this kind of amazing message — your words, rapping and making up that song of hope, thanking the men and women at World Central Kitchen. And we were able to deliver this to everybody. I can tell you that, for me, this was even more important than any money we were receiving from donors because this gave hope to every single cook and every person delivering the food, all across the island, who was working with us. Long story short, we were able to open 26 kitchens. We delivered almost four million meals. And everything we did was bringing the same hope that you and all your friends brought to the island. Sometimes a moment of empathy becomes a very powerful weapon.

LMM: We became friends from that because we checked in often during that time, and then I think the first time we saw each other [in person] was in D.C., probably six months later. We had a big bear hug and a lot of drinks at a hotel bar. [laughs] Let me ask you something. I feel like what’s happening right now is sort of the ultimate test of World Central Kitchen because it’s not one hot spot; it’s not one natural disaster. It is this thing that has spread across our country and our world. You’ve got something going on in San Juan, and you’ve got things going on in Detroit and Chicago, but still every day I see the places where New Yorkers can get a meal. How are you able to scale your incredible work?

JA: Just for the record: We were not really drinking. We were supporting the local economy.

LMM: It’s true.

JA: Thank you. But listen, at World Central Kitchen, we’ve been doing this now for years. Puerto Rico, I would say, was the first time we went so big so quickly. And we just came back from the Bahamas, where we prepared almost three and a half million meals and we were delivering food to 14 islands. We saw very quickly that this was going to be a humanitarian crisis, for people who were losing their jobs and had a lot of difficulty feeding their families.

At World Central Kitchen, we’re trying to bring as many people as possible together under one umbrella. We want them to be themselves, but we want all to have a clear objective, so we are not stepping on each other. So right now, we are providing meals for hundreds of hospitals, and we are partnering with hundreds of restaurants across America, making sure that money donations go directly to their employees so these places can continue doing what they do best: provide meals to the elderly, to shelters, to the homeless, to hospitals, and to the police. We are in more than 150 cities right now in the United States and growing. It’s amazing for me to see the local leaders and how important they are. They go and lead and put themselves at the service of other people.

Andrés in Harlem during the coronavirus pandemic in April. Photo: courtesy

LMM: Here’s a question I have: What is in your coffee that doesn’t seem to be in everybody else’s? Because you seem to have more energy — and this is not just true when there’s a crisis and you’re stepping up and acting, which is often, but I’ve been on vacation with you! You talk about tomatoes and sea urchins with the same urgency. ¡Tienes esa energía! [You have that energy!] What’s in the engine there, papi?

JA: I’m just good at creating mayhem and bringing the urgency of now, now. When you talk about food and you’re talking about water, the urgency of now is yesterday, Lin. Yesterday. So our teams, they have a very simple mission: Feed the hungry and bring water to the thirsty. That’s it. I’m trying to connect the dots, and in an emergency, you have the oomph, the energy, or you don’t.

LMM: I love your videos where you’re cooking all inside the time of a Hamilton song, and that’s a wide range, from King George’s three-minute song [“You’ll Be Back”] to “Non-Stop,” which is a more substantive meal. What was the thinking behind that como el pensador de esta tradición [as the thinker behind this tradition]?

JA: OK, I’m too embarrassed to say that I have a crush on Lin-Manuel.

LMM: [laughs]

JA: And I’m a guy who, since I was very young, I would always sing. I would make my own songs, and I would sing about life and about things that were very important to me. And to this day I do it, but I do it in the shower and in the bathroom, when no one sees me, of course. But I like it, and I make crazy songs — and my daughters love to sing Hamilton. Every single child I know seems to know Hamilton. You’ve done more than anybody else for the history of America by planting seeds in every child’s brain. [laughs]

I love to cook to the rhythm of music, and sometimes I make sounds with the fork and the knife, and sometimes we start singing. This [idea] began many years ago when I had a cooking show in Spain. We were running out of time, and it was a long day and everybody was tired, and I still had [to film] one entire recipe. Usually, an entire recipe would take us two hours to film. But the teams were destroyed. I was kind of destroyed. We had to finish the show because it had to go on TV two days later. I told them, “You know what I’m thinking? Give me one song.” And it was the Boléro, by [Maurice] Ravel — the music.

Andrés in the Corona neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., in April. Photo: courtesy

LMM: [laughs]

JA: And it was, like, five, six minutes. And I told them, “I want all the ingredients in front of me. I want the pan, the ingredients. And we’re going to cook in six minutes without stops.” All the cameras are rolling, and in 10 minutes, we’re out of here. Instead of two or three hours to film the recipe, we did it in six minutes. And everybody went home, and it was actually one of the best recipes we ever did. So this stayed in my brain. I put on a song; I put out the ingredients as a challenge to see if I can make the dish in the time of the song. And that’s where we began with Hamilton — which my family and I love. When we were in New York a few weeks ago, before we came to be quarantined at home, the last thing my family did — I couldn’t because I was working — was go to see Hamilton on Broadway.

LMM: Oh, wow!

JA: And they came back home with the thing of “Hey! We need to do Hamilton cooking!” I’m like, “Let’s do it!” So that’s how it happened.

LMM: Wow. Whether it’s your cooking show in Spain or the Hamilton videos or your responses, the running theme is urgency: “We gotta do it now. We can spend three hours, or we can do it in 10 minutes.” But urgency is your fuel source. What do you think we’ll look like when we start to emerge from our homes again? And how do you think World Central Kitchen will evolve to sort of go with that? Because I think we’re going to be entering a new economic age and that people are going to be hungrier on the other side of this thing.

Andrés in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian last year. Photo: courtesy

JA: Well, what we are trying to do is what many people are trying to do. Make sure that the government makes the right decisions — not to throw money at the problem but to invest in solutions. Right now, we see that our farmers are throwing [out their produce] because they don’t have anywhere to sell it. And at the same time, we see that families in places across America have difficulty to bring food to their homes. And so this is a problem that actually has a very simple solution. Feeding America with the food banks is going to be part of the solution, but we need more. We need to be using all the stadiums and baseball fields as meeting points for these families to make sure that people can drive in, pick up a box of food for a week, and go home. We need to start opening more farmers’ markets in the cities, on every corner — especially in the food deserts.

People don’t want our opinion. People want our respect. So you give them respect. I think in this new America I see a lot of empathy. I think we need to weaponize empathy. We need to weaponize the good things that bring us together above all. And I believe that if we do that, the America we’re going to see won’t be about if you’re [on the] right or on the left. If you’re white or you’re black, or if you have an accent. We’re going to see that a virus like this can get to all of us and that we need shorter walls and longer tables because a wall cannot stop a virus. A wall will not stop hungry people. If you’re a father, you’re a mother, and your family has to eat, nothing will stop you.

So I hope that we’re going to see a world where we’re investing in the betterment of the lives of people. We need to make sure people are lifted up. If we push people down, we’re going to see a tomorrow that we don’t like. So whoever we vote for, we need to make sure that these people understand that they are here to serve the people and empower the communities. If they don’t do that, we don’t want those leaders. If we have leaders who only think they’re at the top, we don’t want those leaders. We need to make sure that leaders empower everybody to succeed in this beautiful America, in this world we’re all a part of.

Andrés at El Barretal migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, in 2019. Photo: courtesy

LMM: Well said! I can’t wait to be in the kitchen with you again and have our kids listen to Hamilton — and go to the market, get some ingredients, and watch you go to work.

JA: Serve you cocktails?

LMM: Yeah!

JA: Da, da, da [singing] — I love you, Lin!

LMM: I love you! Thanks for taking the time. It’s always inspiring to talk to you.

Andrés in Mozambique in 2019. Photo: courtesy

JA: Say hi to your family! Everybody!

LMM: All right, I’m gonna eat my lunch.

JA: Boom!

For more information about World Central Kitchen and to donate, go to wck.org.

For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 22.