Famed chef José Andrés worked the crowd and a massive dish of paella on a rainy Saturday night at Chicon. South by Southwest brought together the Spanish chef, Aaron Franklin and Chicon executive chef and co-owner Andrew Wiseheart at the East Austin restaurant for what constituted a big SouthBites house party, a format with tasting stations conceived by Andrés.
Andrés, whose American restaurant empire is based in Washington D.C., passionately engaged on immigration issues, a topic he said has been at the heart of many of his conversations during his time at SXSW. The chef, who sported his “I am an immigrant” t-shirt, which has become something of a calling card for him of late, never mentioned president Trump by name, but he was obviously taking aim at the politician who has made immigration a focal point of his domestic agenda early in office. The chef, who pulled the plug on his restaurant that was to go into Trump International Hotel in D.C., thinks that certain politicians are using language about undocumented workers and “selling lies” as a way to divide people.
“This is about people. And we have some segments that forgot that this is about people,”Andrés. “I think we can all agree that nobody wants undocumented in their communities or doing wrong, so it is unfair that people are trying to cast us in that light.”
The rhetoric has only served as a distraction, according to Andrés, who believes that America needs a different type of leadership that the kind it has now.
“We will not solve those problems by finger pointing at undocumented immigrants,”Andrés said as he served paella Valenciana to more than 150 guests. “Anybody who makes people fight each other is not the type of leadership America has ever had. We need leaders of inclusion.”
The chef served his rabbit and chicken paella, darkened by the char of tomatoes and artichokes, as chef Jorge Hernandez, an Andrés protege who worked for the chef for 9 years, stoked the logs to maintain the fire amidst the wind and rain. The experience was something of a full circle for the former Qui chef de cuisine, who first cooked paella by himself on a beach in the South of Spain with Andrés.
Hernandez pointed to the chef’s passion as one of the things that makes Andrés special and says that the excitable and charismatic chef people see on TV is exactly who Andrés is.
“When he talks about telling a story with food, he does it because it’s what he believes,” Hernandez said, picking on a theme he spoke about earlier in the day at a SXSW panel about food and culture. “There’s a reason I worked for him for so long. Food is a story. Food is emotional.”
Andrés sent a couple of 25-day-old Iberico pigs to Franklin, who roasted them over pecan for six hours, shredded the meat and mixed it with salsa verde and clarified butter for an excellent rillette that impressed as much as his trademark velvety brisket.
Wiseheart, who prepared a fragrant pastrami ribeye, doubled as a co-host with partner Ben Edgerton, opening up his kitchen to give diners more bites and a glimpse of his team at work. The chef, who will appear at Franklin’s Hot Luck Festival in May, was “humbled, honored and stoked” to welcome Andrés.
“It’s an honor to have him the restaurant and support him and what he is doing,” Wiseheart said. “People in our industry know the immigrant community is the muscle behind what we do.”