Generous Spirit in Disaster's Wake

Don Harris | October 2017

La Tienda is a labor of love for our family.  Spain is our second home, and sharing time with our providers in Spain is truly satisfying – whether visiting a fisherman on the rocky coast of Galicia or a cheese maker on the plains of La Mancha.
What originally drew me to Spain was the closeness of families, and how they share meals together – I think this is the essence of the healthy Spanish way of life. Unlike many modern cultures, where we eat on the run or separate into small family units, Spaniards tend to welcome extended family and friends to enjoy food together, whether at home or in the local restaurant.  

I remember with a smile meeting Lola for the first time in a small village in rural Córdoba.  She runs a small company called Despensa La Nuestra that prepares classic soups and sauces for people to enjoy at home.  Her mission is to create jobs in the community and make wholesome foods that can bring families together around the table. She convinced some of her friends to get up early to go to the market for the fresh vegetables needed to prepare sauces and soups for their working “sisters”.  They choose to make this little sacrifice because it enables the village to continue the centuries old tradition of the mid-day family meal, even during a time of widespread unemployment.  They gave a boost to the working families - mothers, fathers and their school children - so that the daily family meal is not compromised by financial necessity. The added bonus is that the traditional recipes of their ancestors are now enjoyed across the world!
One impressive Spaniard who embodies this spirit of community is a fascinating, dynamic man named José Andrés, the chef based in Washington, DC.  Our family has known him for almost twenty years. During the time when we were beginning to grow La Tienda in Virginia, José was founding his Jaleo restaurants in Washington, D.C., just a few hours away. 
We felt an immediate kinship to this dynamic young man, since we both shared a love of Spain and America. I guess I felt another bond: José and I were both sailors in our youth!  Since those humble beginnings, José has created a fabulous culinary presence from coast to coast, including a TV series on PBS, teaching at Harvard, collaboration with the White House and over 20 restaurants reaching from D.C. to L.A. to Las Vegas to San Juan.
What is most appealing to me is José’s generosity and creative energy.  While he was launching critically acclaimed restaurants across the country, he did not let his fame go to his head. At the same time as he was delighting the restaurant clientele with his artistry as a chef, he was serving healthy meals to the hungry through the D.C. Central Kitchen charity.  When disaster struck Haiti in 2010, he didn’t just wring his hands.  He founded the World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit dedicated to feeding the most vulnerable and empowering them to feed themselves.  And he didn’t forget Haiti once the immediate crisis subsided.  His foundation continues to offer help in the area, supporting the use of solar and natural gas stoves to help feed people and prevent deforestation by reducing the amount of wood used for cooking fires.  He returned in 2015 to make a PBS documentary showing the beauty of the country and people he had grown to love.

Currently he is in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.  He's been on the ground for weeks, serving meals to people and helping coordinate a massive effort to support our fellow citizens.  Led by José, the World Central Kitchen team has now served a half a million meals to families in Puerto Rico.  One of my favorite images shows a line of big paellas, bubbling away under a tent.  What better way to feed a battered community than with paella, the most communal dish of them all.
It is inspiring to see people coming together to help neighbors in need.  And what better way to help others than with food.  Not only is it nutritious for the body, but it is just as important for the spirit to know that others care and are willing to help.  My friend Lola worked to help the families of her village in Córdoba in whatever way she could.  José is making an extraordinary effort to help his brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.  While I don’t think this generosity is exclusive to the Spanish people, I think the remarkable sense of community and family that I sensed when I first visited Spain is reflected in these selfless actions.
The hurricane in Puerto Rico wiped out 80% of the agriculture industry and the entire power grid for the island. Over 3.5 million people are in need of food, water and shelter.  If you would like to help our friend José in his efforts, you can contact his team at Donate to World Central Kitchen. Your donation would help fund food, fuel, chef travel and logistics.