As we move into the winter months, things like the final harvests in many parts of the country, the holidays, and the potential sedentary increase that cold weather begets, the power of food may occupy a larger role in our minds. With this in mind, as the days grow shorter, it’s nice to think back to the spring, with its infinite opportunity and its lessons that we can carry forth into the winter.
Last May, Chef Jose Andrés, inspirator of ThinkFoodGroup’s many progressive restaurants including the newly proposed plant-based fast-casual Beefsteak, spoke at George Washington University's commencement. His words, though universally applicable, seem particularly appropriate for this time.
Central to his speech is shifting the concept of success away from an aggregation of things to garnering communal well-being:
The new American Dream is bigger. It’s about achieving your success while also making an impact in the world. What you create for yourself you must also create for others. We need to know ourselves, embrace our individuality. But, it is not only the “I” it is the ‘we.’”
Andrés is a storyteller as well as a chef and as he orates details of the lessons he’s learned through his career path, he provides recipes to guide the graduates—and us all—in ways of using privilege and education to uplift the world. He begins by recounting a story of his youth; his father’s own advice about Andrés’s desire to learn to cook:
‘Taking care of the fire is the most important thing. If you control the fire, then and only then, you will become a cook.’ I realized then, that if I wanted to fulfill my dreams, then I had to lay down my foundation. . . . You may want to do the cooking, but first you must learn how to build the fire.”
Through a series of stories of being in the Spanish Navy, coming to America, and starting his work at Jaléo, he gives instructions of being brave in the face of rejection, pursuing dreams, and putting in hard work. Yet, as any innovative chef might suggest, he culminates these allegories into advice on forging our own paths.
Friends, my advice: don’t follow a recipe. Funny coming from a cook, no? When we go by the book, we lose our ability to adapt, to be creative. Sometimes, you found yourself without an ingredient or two. It will seem like everything is going wrong. If things don’t go as expected, make the unexpected work in your favor: Change the name of the dish … the challenges that we face today—hunger, poverty, inequality, war, many others—have been around forever. But, that doesn’t mean that it always has to be this way. That is where we need you the most. We need you to come up with new solutions. And to do that, new recipes for success must be written.”
Andrés’s global perspective on food, success, and the American Dream are perfect reminders for us all not only of the power of food, but the power we have to change the world.
PHOTO: courtesy of gourmandbreaks.com
GW Commencement 2014: José Andrés via George Washington University
Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson