Here's What Chef Jose Enrique Learned Feeding Puerto Rico in the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria
After the double-punch of Hurricane Irma and Maria, the San Juan chef got to work.
"The impact and the insane gravitational pull that the planet called Jose Andrés has on the people that are around him is massive."
Talking about the power of restaurants and chefs to impact communities, Andrew Zimmern mentioned his friend Andrés to Jose Enrique during an American Express Trade Panel at the 2018 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, as the two chefs have emerged as agents of change in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Enrique, whose San Juan restaurant lost a roof during the storm, has been one of the most active, vocal leaders in Puerto Rico relief efforts. Moments after the hurricane, the award-winning chef got to work finding food and water for people who needed it, opening his restaurant doors to the community. Two days later, Andrés called; he wanted to bring World Central Kitchen to Enrique's restaurant and get cooking.
"Jose Andrés calls and says, 'I'm going to fly down tomorrow and set up the same system I have in Houston,'" the chef recalled. "He started cooking in the restaurant. He was saying, 'There's all this red tape ... Dude, people need water now.' So we just started buying things and giving it out." They made "300 meals, then 3,000, then 10,000." Soon enough, their team had food trucks driving around Puerto Rico. Despite all the red tape — and there was a lot — Andrés and Enrique continued feeding thousands.
Even when Enrique was putting together simple ham and cheese sandwiches, it was all about the love. There had to be mayo and mustard; that was non-negotiable.
"You don’t want a dry sandwich," he said. "Everyone would get a bottle of water, fruit, and a sandwich, but there was love in that."
Enrique, a 2013 F&W Best New Chef, also made stews, fritters, rice, and beans with whatever ingredients he could get his hands on.
"Food is emotional," he continued. "Let's say you have no power, no food; you’ve been like this for three weeks. You’ve got kids, and you can't feed them, and FEMA is dropping these packages of military supplies. You heat them — these people are in an uncomfortable situation, and they’re eating something that’s weird to them. If you give them the rice and beasn that they’re used to…it provides a moment where you can sit down and realize you know what is going on. It's uncertainty on top of uncertainty. Food is a thing that kind of holds you down every day."
Zimmern remarked, "There was Jose Enrique before the storm, but it seems the Jose Enrique after the storm is a much different person with a much different agenda."
Characteristically modest, Enrique said that anyone in his position would have done the same. "I'm a cook," he added, and maybe that said it all.