Q&A with José Andrés About The Value of Mentorship & Community in Business

José Andrés Mentorship
Chef José Andrés talks with children in Puerto Rico who are living in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

José Andrés was spotlighted in the news for his heroic leadership, activating World Central Kitchen and rallying the hospitality industry to step up after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico, and then again after devastating fires blazed across Los Angeles and the northern regions. World Central Kitchen reached the milestone of 3 million meals served for the American people of Puerto Rico. World Central Kitchen, Chef José Andrés, and the #ChefsForPuertoRico network of chefs and volunteers have serviced communities in need, via satellite kitchens and ongoing operations.

“We give thanks to the amazing people who have made it possible to cook and share these three million meals all across Puerto Rico,” said Chef José Andrés, chairman and founder of World Central Kitchen.

Chef José Andrés’ leadership and mentorship has activated a local, committed network with a proven model that can be sustained by local partners and the federal government, with the support of the people of Puerto Rico. Chef Andrés has shown that a job is not just about making money. It’s about having a place in the world and serving the community. And it’s about looking for a calling, not a job. To some people, a job is to the spirit what helium is to a balloon.

That’s why mentoring and nurturing the next generation entering the culinary industry is so important to Chef José Andrés. With the fact that 3.2 million disadvantaged youths in the U.S. between 16 and 24 are not in school and do not have jobs. And, that as the restaurant and hospitality industry continues to surge, there’s a forecast of 1.7 million new restaurant positions by 2025, there is an overwhelming need for trained, hard-working and dedicated staff.

While many professionals in the industry are seeking ways to solve the problems, the pioneering non-profit Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) founded by culinary educator and cookbook author Richard Grausman, and now Co-Chaired by chef, author, and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson, has developed a recipe of lasting success centered on mentorship over the past 28 years.

For his exceptional leadership and achievements, Chef José Andrés will receive the C-CAP Honors Award at their annual culinary event in February in New York City. The event will feature fabulous culinary tasting prepared by over 30 of the city’s finest chefs, and assisting the chefs gaining hands-on, real-life work experience will be more than 60 New York City C-CAP high school students and alumni. True mentorship in action. According to José Andrés “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

José Andrés Mentorship
Chef José Andrés and team prepare meals in Houston as part of World Central Kitchen.

Who were your mentors and how important was mentorship for you?

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I have many friends who I consider to be mentors in my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. Rule breakers like Ferran Adria taught me to always take risks, to question and think creatively, outside the box. Robert Egger touched my spirit as I saw the work he did with DC Central Kitchen and then LA Central Kitchen, and ultimately taught me the importance of empowering communities – how it’s more powerful to invest in smart, sustainable solutions than to just throw money at a problem. And then there is my team, who I learn from every day, and the people who support our work like the volunteers who helped #ChefsForPuertoRico and World Central Kitchen serve over three million meals in Puerto Rico this year. They show what it means to be selfless – like the children who waited for everyone to be served before they got their plate of food – their one meal of the day. There are amazing people all around you; you just have to look for them.

What are the most important aspects of mentorship to you as a business leader–for seasoned professionals as well as those just entering the business?

José Andrés Mentorship
Chef José Andrés walks through flood waters in Puerto Rico to deliver a meal prepared by World Central Kitchen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

I believe that we must always be open to others, to new opportunities, knocking on doors that we don’t know if they will open. That way, you can find a mentor anywhere – even if you are a long-time business leader, or just entering into the world of business, you can still always be learning from others if you are open to it.

What are the most important aspects of building community for you and your business?

To me there are many important parts to building a strong community – it is not just you and your business, but your neighborhood, your city, your country. I got involved early with DC Central Kitchen, and since then we have had a great back and forth relationship – students from DCCK come to train at our restaurants, and our team goes there to teach and to learn. I love the work that Dog Tag Bakery is doing in Georgetown, they are filling a need for a great bakery but also serving the community by training veterans – it is absolutely amazing. And over the years I have seen how community can be built by surrounding yourself with a strong team – people you respect and trust. These are the ones you will be relying on for years to come. Some of my team members have been working with me since the very beginning when we opened Jaleo 25 years ago!

What are the most important aspects of “giving back” to the community, lessons to share about your experience feeding the people of Puerto Rico?

Before we arrived in Puerto Rico, my team from World Central Kitchen and I, we thought we might be there for a few days, making a few hundred meals. But when we landed we understood the scale of the problem, and quickly learned a valuable lesson about the urgency of NOW. Instead of going to an office building and discussing what needed to happen, we did what we do best – we cooked. We went to chefs, to kitchens, to food trucks, and started making a plan to feed hundreds of people, then thousands of people – and ultimately our team served over three million meals. Don’t let planning get in the way of action!

José Andrés Mentorship
Chef José Andrés serving meals prepared by World Central Kitchen to families in Puerto Rico who are living in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

You will be honored at the C-CAP Benefit and will receive the C-CAP Honors Award, an award granted to individuals within the culinary industry for exceptional leadership and achievements.  Please share your advice for the next generation of chefs aspiring to become leaders in the industry?

Be like the three Musketeers – “all for one and one for all” – never forget the people around you. There is a proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” The best successes are those that are shared, and the most helpful failures happen when everyone can learn together.


Chefs and Industry Professionals talk about Mentorship:

“My mentor was James Beard.  His advice gave me the confidence to follow my joy of cooking on to a career.  It is not hard to pass on what you know to someone who needs your guidance and the benefits to both the mentee and the mentor are extremely meaningful and rewarding.” Richard Grausman, Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP)

“The reason why I’m a chef today is because I had some great mentors, Chef Charlie Trotter, an amazing chef in Chicago, and Miss Leah Chase from New Orleans, taught me a lot about work ethic, pushing through, staying curious, and always keep learning, and that’s something that I want to give back to my young cooks. “ — Marcus Samuelsson, Chef, Author, Restaurateur, Co-Chair C-CAP Board of Directors, from PBS American Graduate Day 2017

“Learn your craft, perfect your craft, and share your craft.” — Philippe Bertineau, The Polo Bar

“I can safely say that almost 90% what I am today can be attributed to many mentors that I have had in different phases of my career & life. Looking back, what I value most in a mentor is his/her ability to instill confidence and the courage to believe in yourself even when you are not sure. I was very fortunate to have many of them who guided me through their leadership, put an immense amount of trust in my skills and compelled me to succeed. The field of Culinary is an area where you learn most from who you work with than from any class or book. A dedicated day spent with a good chef who is willing to invest in you is worth a hundred cookbooks!” — Ashfer Biju, Perrine

“The greatest satisfaction of being a chef is not creating a dish, rather it is observing a sous chef you have trained create a dish that he or she is proud of.   We are all the sum of those who came before us, meaning that those who follow will be our responsibility to create a brighter future.”  — Aaron Bludorn, Café Boulud

“Paul Bocuse was the best ambassador for French cuisine and throughout his career, sought to make dining more accessible. He didn’t want to simply cook for the elite clientele, which is why he created brasseries and fast casual eateries around Lyon and beyond; he was the first Chef to open restaurants in other parts of the world such as Japan and America. Cooking was not a pretention for him, it was a craft. He was a man who always liked to share the virtue and grandeur of French cuisine with the world and to this day, he has had a universal influence over all generations. He was a visionary in the sense that he always liked to provoke but with a very intelligent approach and always a good sense of humor. He perfectly embodied fraternity, generosity, passion, discipline and joie de vivre.” — Daniel Boulud, Chef, Author, Restaurateur; about his mentor Paul Bocuse

“I have been receiving for almost 13 years, and it has made me the professional I am today. Even made me the woman/person I am today. C-CAP has not only changed my life, they have inserted themselves and are a part of my life and my career. Like a family, I always have a network to turn too. A network of like-minded, hard-working foodie individual’s who have wanted nothing more than to see me succeed.”  — C-CAP Alumna Gabee Calle, Pier Sixty

“Mentoring prepares one with professional knowledge and a work ethic that leads to success. When you’ve had a mentor and achieved a level of success, it’s natural to want to give back to share your own experiences.” — Markus Glocker, Bâtard

“When I reflect on my 40 years in this business, I often think about how I got to where I am. A man by the name of Alan Lewis, who worked with Joe Baum, was greatly responsible for guiding and mentoring me early in my career. At times, he was tough and he even made me cry more than once. But, he was smart and fair and I learned so much from him.  Between Alan and my husband Martin Katz’s tutelage, I took food and service at special events to a whole new level. And this mentorship has continued to play a big part in the success of Gourmet Advisory Services, and our place at the top of the events world.” — Harriette Rose Katz, Gourmet Advisory Services

“Mentorship is one of the most important tools we have – taking a student/cook/person with the hunger for knowledge, and teaching them, advising them, guiding them, and helping them grow into the chefs they are meant to be – this is how we ALL grow!  We become better chefs and better people by sharing our expertise and know-how with the future generation.  If we create better people, we create a better world!”  — Maria Loi, Loi Estiatorio

“The culinary arts and chefs, in particular, have a long and established tradition of passing along to the next generation the knowledge and skills which life in the kitchen demands. Without this practice, cooking cannot continue to grow and flourish. Mentoring novice cooks is the responsibility of every chef; teaching is at the very core of the art form itself. Many people mentored me in my early years including Chefs Patrick Clark, Alain Sailhac, and Daniel Boulud, to name the three chefs who taught me my craft in the field. But my chef-instructors at City Tech were among my most important mentor-relationships, whose expertise and honesty has led me through decades in the business.”  — Michael Lomonaco, Porter House

“Everyone starts from scratch. All the greatest chefs in the world were once students and stagiers, virtually clueless about what was ahead of them. As someone who’s been through that phase, it’s great to reach out to students who are in the same position we once were in and share whatever we can with them, to ease their journey into the culinary world. Knowing you’re not alone and feeling like you have a friend in the kitchen community goes a long way. Working with C-CAP gives me the greatest joy, knowing I’m able to help someone.” — Miro Uskokovic, Gramercy Tavern

“For me, being a mentor means paying it forward. I had so many of my own mentors who taught me and shaped the way I cook and handle my own kitchens today that I want to be able to share that with others. I find taking the time to teach someone is one of the most important aspects of my job as a chef. To see when something makes sense to a cook I am working with, really shows me that I am doing something right.” — Michael White, Vaucluse

Joyce Appelman
Joyce Appelman is the National Communications Director for C-CAP, Careers through Culinary Arts Program in New York, NY. She has been instrumental in opening career opportunities for many young people in the foodservice industry. Email her at joyceappelman@gmail.com