Chef Jose Andres on the Boundless Possibilities of Produce
The chef and humanitarian tells us the many reasons vegetables are important—don't worry, he's not giving up on meat!
He has a larger-than-life personality and an equally huge vision of creating a stronger, more socially-and ecologically-conscious world. José Andrés is a Michelin-starred and James Beard Award-winning Spanish-American chef who has been acclaimed for both his restaurants and his non-profit work. We talked to him about his new cookbook, Vegetables Unleashed, which makes vegetables and the farmers growing them the stars of the show.
Andrés notes the complex, changing relationship between consumers and food in the United States. Better-off shoppers are interested in healthy, pricey ingredients that have eco-friendly branding like quinoa and almond milk. At the same time their meat consumption continues to skyrocket-and it's no secret that the meat industry has a negative environmental ethos. Andrés strongly believes that you can enjoy meat and vegetables equally as long as you're shopping sustainably. But the issue for many Americans is different: "For the vast majority it can be hard to find vegetables, even in diners. Plus, as demands change, smaller farms are being overrun by large corporations. There's a lot of numbers showing that small farms are closing," he says. But there is hope says Andrés: "A lot of cities now have rooftop gardens as a way for young farmers who aren't in rural areas to share their love of vegetables."
The growth of, and enthusiasm for, farmers' markets has also helped increase access to fresh produce. "I think it's a great family tradition to take your children to the farmers' market. It's a great way to support your local economy and understand what's going on with the system." When should you buy a locally grown product versus a fruit or vegetable that was grown across the country? "I think we should buy local and organic when it makes sense. But we shouldn't say, 'Oh, I only eat local' when we are sipping Champagne from France in the heart of California…and the Champagne is from 1999, so it's not even from this season. I think you can love, endorse, and support local but also support globally by enjoying a cheese from France and avocados from Mexico. Finding the perfect balance is the difficult thing to do but we should not give up on finding local," says Andrés.
Fresh isn't the only way to enjoy fruit and vegetables. In fact, Andrés believes that we should celebrate canned vegetables as much as farm-fresh produce. "Canning has always been a way to preserve the goodness of the earth. Where I come from, canning is delicious. Some of the most rewarding things are using good canned green beans or good asparagus, boiling them, and throwing on some oil and vinegar. It's an easy, delicious plate of food that every family should enjoy at least once a week."
Beyond celebrating the bounty of produce, Andrés' overarching goal with Vegetables Unleashed was to give a voice to the voiceless-the farmers who grow the food to put on our plates. His mission was inspired by the late Anthony Bourdain, whose publishing imprint includes Andrés' new cookbook. "We need to make sure to take care of the farmers. [In the book] we tried to pay homage to all the men and women who help us put food on our tables."