José Andrés, Chef of Mi Casa and Chef/Owner of ThinkFoodGroup (Photographer credit - Our Local Commons)
Tell us about your passion for golf and food.
[Laughter] The reason I began playing golf was because I sent my daughter, Carlota, to a golf camp outside of Barcelona, Spain. Carlota attended the golf clinic for a month, and when I saw my daughter afterward, the first question she asked me was, “Daddy what’s your handicap?” And she never let it go. When I came back in late September, I began taking golf lessons. I wanted to make sure I could play with her. I felt that it would be a great sport for her to play for a lifetime.
The connection of golf and food does not need to be forced. There should always be good food and wine at the end of every great round of golf with your friends, but I personally have a special relationship with golf. Maybe it’s because my ball always ends up in the woods far away from the fairway! In the spring and fall, in the places I play in Virginia and Maryland where I live, I always find mushrooms. I found the reason why golf and baseball caps are useful. You can use them to protect you from the sun, or you can use them to collect the morels and porcini you find when you are searching for your lost ball! That is where my true moment of golf and food begins – when I find mushrooms in the middle of the forest. I’m an expert on the impossible shots because I don’t know what it’s like to hit the ball from the fairway.
Do you remember your first experiences when you started to play?
I played my first official round of golf with my wife on a visit to The Greenbrier in West Virginia during spring break around 2005. I was committed to taking classes. On the day of my first class it was snowing, it was a wonderful moment, my wife and I were undercover in this beautiful golf school building, hitting balls with all the snowflakes falling. After hitting about eight balls, we played three holes. There was nobody on the golf course, and it was hell in the beginning, but it was a good beginning especially with a great golf professional teaching us at the iconic Greenbrier.
Where else have you played?
After The Greenbrier experience, a good friend of mine, who took me to TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, a great golf course where I am now a member. I will always remember this experience because, quite frankly, it takes guts to take somebody there for their first round of golf. I think I lost nine balls in the first nine holes. That’s when I learned to understand “the turn,” because you go by the clubhouse, and you have to buy more balls. But seriously, it is the challenge that gives you the reason to come back. Do you want to perform better and train to do better every time? That’s the best thing about golf.
Are you just as passionate about golf now as you are of food?
I’m very passionate about food because food is my life. Some people would say I’m very passionate about golf because I’m a 21 handicap that plays most of the time like a 36. I have moments of brilliance like every golfer does. I can do whatever you want me to do with my short game. I love my wedges - I really love my 60-degree wedge. So yeah, for me, the challenge is the same with food - it seems like you always have the ingredients, but once the dish is made and you taste it, you think it could be so much better. For whatever reason, there are so many variables, the same ingredients usually don’t equal the same dish. Golf is like the same dish, but not the same dish twice. When you come to play the same golf course all your life with the same balls, same clubs, and the same friends, you still know that it’s not going to be the same round.
Tell us about Mi Casa at Dorado Beach. How did you become involved in that?
My good friends Herve Humler, David Murphy and his predecessor George McNeill from Ritz-Carlton first introduced me and my team to the developers of Dorado Beach, and we immediately fell in love with the historic property. My restaurant, Mi Casa, was really inspired by the legendary location of the resort. I was also very impressed by the team’s dedication to quality and knew it would be a great partnership.
How do you see the culinary scene envolving in golf in the future?
Over the years I think that golf courses are making many changes to upgrade the quality of food. I have already had an opportunity to have my little stamp of approval put on some golf clubs, and I often cook for some friends at some golf courses. I still remember an amazing moment that we did at a birthday party for a friend of mine at Valderrama, the very famous club in Spain, where Europe beat the USA in the 1997 Ryder Cup. We served over 150 people, and I cooked over and open flame, just meters from the 18th hole.
In the world of private golf clubs and resorts, people from around the world eat at some of the best restaurants, and they also go to play at these exclusive golf courses. There is now pressure on the golf clubs to make sure they can please their clientele who have experience at the finest restaurants worldwide.
I’ve been here in Puerto Rico at the Ritz-Carlton Reserve at Dorado Beach many times. The Blue Course is a beautiful golf course, and I also launched my golf food truck here. For many reasons, it only lasted two years but it was very successful while it lasted. I think the best moment was our launch day when my friend Chi Chi Rodriguez joined us and enjoyed several dishes we prepared for him. For me, it was a way to just play golf in Dorado a few minutes away from Chi Chi’s home where he heard my “fore”, and then ending the day eating at the food truck.
I think like anything, we enjoy a sport that everybody can play no matter where you live. It is true that some golf courses are expensive and the housing surrounding them can be very exclusive. People from around the world eat at some of the best restaurants and they go to play those golf courses. There is now pressure on the golf clubs to make sure they are able to please their clientele who have experience at the best restaurants. Over the years, we’ve seen the level of food going higher and higher. An example is a golf club in Singapore where they have some of the best sushi I’ve tasted anywhere. Nobody knows it, but it’s always packed, even though it’s very small. I’ve eaten in Valderrama and they have very good food in their 19th hole grill. I’ve eaten at Congressional Country Club in D.C., and they have great food, and an incredible golf course. Every day you see the chefs at golf clubs becoming more independent. Many of them, like my friend Michael Mina, has restaurants in resorts where golf is at the heart of the resort.
Do you have a lot of friends who are chefs that love to play golf too?
Yes, for sure – and many of them have joined me at my tournament at Turnberry Isle at the South Beach Festival. The moment you have a good chef who loves golf, and on top of that they’re good golfers, sooner or later you know that they will influence many others to play the game. Remember, we take four or five hours to play a round of golf. When you are finished, you’re tired, and you want a shower, and then you want to eat something at the same place. The clubs have a great opportunity to serve great food, and the quality of the food around the world is only going to get better and better.
Tell us about World Central Kitchen which is close to your heart. Tell us about its growth and how the chef community supports it.
World Central Kitchen has been a great learning experience for me, and also very gratifying. I’ve worked closely with DC Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C. They empower the community with only a few people. We are out on the streets training people to be cooks, taking them out of shelters or in the morning when they come out of jail. I make sure that we give them a reason to belong and come back to society - training them to be cooks, finding them jobs in the community, and in the process feeding thousands of people a day. This is extremely important for me, as I’ve been part of the organization in many ways, from volunteering as Chairman, to being the Chief Fundraising Officer for 23 years.
World Central Kitchen happened when I was in the Cayman Islands. I was playing golf when the when the earthquake happened in Haiti. And being this close to the island, I think something happened in my brain. I’m having a great time and I’m playing golf, so while I’m eating and drinking, and island is suffering only a few kilometres away. A few weeks later, my wife, my partner, and I had some personal kind of intervention with a simple purpose to make sure the food came to those communities. So we made things happen for the people of Haiti. Today we have a restaurant and bakery in an orphanage managed by people we trained. We partnered with the Ministry of Tourism to reopen the culinary school, and we already have four graduating classes.
Last year we helped 100 schools switch to gas cooking There was very limited produce because of lack of education, so we invested in training the Haitian people. We’re very proud that World Central Kitchen has made an impact on so many lives, and the project is healthy, alive, and growing. We already opened another bakery, and we’re already assisting other places like Mexico and Cuba. We also have many great chefs coming in to help us expanding the project.
Who are some of those chefs?
Well, it’s many of the ones people recognize. Some of them bring their power because they are TV personalities, but they’re bringing a hard work ethic or bringing the brains. But you’ll find people like Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain helping us, as well as many full-time chefs in the field that go to the province to share with the students and our partners from their field their knowledge. And they’re really not looking for showing up in a photo, but truly to share what they know.
We see how they can really make a difference by simply teaching somebody basic skills. While some of the students have very little, it can be life-changing in many ways. So World Central Kitchen began like a very crazy dream with a lot of hope to help other people, but this crazy dream is truly happening. We don’t have a big budget, but we have a way to do things and we like to spend the vast majority of our money on the issues in the field in the province, not in the headquarters, which is humble and small. We partner with people in the country so we don’t go and try to start everything from scratch. We can then identify potential projects that can be successfully completed with our help and know how.
FULL INTERVIEW available in Golf Kitchen