Interview: José Andrés and Patricia Fernandez de la Cruz

Interview: José Andrés and Patricia Fernandez de la Cruz

The Bethesda couple talks about raising their daughters, cooking at home and José’s crazy schedule

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José Andrés and his wife, Patricia Fernandez de la Cruz, inside their Bethesda home. Photo by Michael Ventura.

José Andrés has a lot on his mind—overseeing more than 30 restaurants nationwide and mobilizing disaster relief feeding efforts—so he tends to focus on the big picture. Details are not his forte. Forgetful, he’s been known to leave the house without his shoes on (and do the grocery shopping anyway) and also to misplace things, including his car.

“Someone could make a living picking up everything José loses,” his wife, Patricia Fernandez de la Cruz, says. At the couple’s Bethesda home, she tries to leave her husband’s footwear by the front door as a reminder, a gesture that seems to reflect her role as the “organized and sensible person in my family,” as José refers to her in We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time, his 2018 book about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. In the book’s acknowledgements, the chef and humanitarian calls his wife “caring, loving and the best friend a nutjob like me can have.”

Married for 24 years, José and Patricia, who’s known as Tichi, have three daughters, Carlota, 20 ; Ines, 18; and Lucia, 15. All three went to The Woods Academy in Bethesda, and Ines and Lucia now attend Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, also in Bethesda. Carlota, a 2017 Stone Ridge graduate, is a sophomore at New York University. The family lives in a contemporary home with a comfortable and earthy interior (and an inviting kitchen with dark wood cabinets, lots of natural light, and a counter filled with bowls of fruits, vegetables and freshly marinated olives). In the front yard, they grow potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and other produce in raised beds. They also do their own composting and maintain two beehives.

José, 49, is originally from Asturias in northwestern Spain; Patricia, 48, is from Cadiz in the southwest. The two met in Washington, D.C. If he seems spontaneous, frenetic and philosophical, she appears sensible, calm and nurturing. They finish each other’s sentences and needle each other like many couples who’ve been married for a long time. While getting their photo taken, José jokes that the picture will finally alert Patricia’s male tennis coach to the fact that she’s married, a comment she isn’t thrilled about.

Andrés has come a long way since serving as an admiral’s chef in the Spanish navy in 1987, then working at the world-renowned (and now closed) Catalonian restaurant El Bulli before moving to New York City to cook in 1991. By 1993, he was heading up the kitchen at Washington, D.C.’s new Jaleo restaurant, pioneering the tapas trend that would become popular nationwide. The second Jaleo opened in Bethesda in 2001, and after that, new restaurants, awards and humanitarian efforts followed at a fast clip. In 2006, he and partner Rob Wilder launched ThinkFoodGroup, an umbrella company that now encompasses the restaurants, a catering business, a food truck, educational efforts, a packaged food line and more.

In 2010, after a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, Andrés and ThinkFoodGroup founded World Central Kitchen, a D.C.-based nonprofit that helps feed vulnerable populations and empowers communities through social enterprise, jobs, education, and training in cleaner, safer ways to cook. The organization has provided meals for victims and rescue workers after volcanic eruptions in Guatemala and Hawaii, an earthquake in Indonesia and wildfires in California, as well as for furloughed federal workers, hungry Venezuelans, and migrants in the Mexican city of Tijuana hoping to enter the United States.

In March, Andrés opened Mercado Little Spain, a 35,000-square-foot food hall in New York City, and his fifth Jaleo restaurant, this one at the Disney Springs entertainment complex in Florida. This fall, he’ll find out if he’s won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. He was nominated last fall by then-U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland. “We don’t talk much about it,” his wife says. “It’s so big that we don’t think it is real.”

Earlier this year, Andrés appeared with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, attended the State of the Union address as a guest of Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, toured a farm in Puerto Rico with Bill and Hillary Clinton, and introduced a best picture nominee at the Academy Awards.

Nonetheless, he remains humble, noting that he’s been inspired in part by his father, who died last November. “My father was always feeding everybody in his old days. He would never see much of a reason not to be doing a big pot of paella,” Andrés says. “Whether we were 20 or 100, he saw the meaning of bringing people together over a plate of food. Family, or people you don’t know. It’s kind of the same thing.”

And then there’s Patricia. A gift given to her by artist, author, internationally known chef and family friend Jacques Pepin says it all. On the bottom of Pepin’s framed drawing of pears is a note that reads, “Dear Patricia: Congratulations on raising such a great husband.”

During a joint interview at the couple’s home, and in a subsequent conversation with Patricia, they talked about everything from raising children in Bethesda to how José’s work has affected their family.

Where did you first meet?

José: Do you remember?

Patricia: I do remember.

José: What do you remember?

Patricia: We met at Café Atlantico, the restaurant, when it used to be in Adams Morgan.

How did that happen? Were you fixed up?

Patricia: No, it was just a fun place where all my friends would go. And José’s partner [at Jaleo], Roberto Alvarez, was one of the owners. José would also go there after work. Actually, I was waiting in the line with a friend because there were always long lines to get into Café Atlantico. And José came with a friend and he was like, ‘Do you want to come in?’ We said, ‘Sure.’ So we go in, and then we say, ‘Thank you!’ And we went to look for our friends.

José: She left me alone. She used me. [Laughter.]

Patricia: Then we ended up all meeting each other.

José: I saw her dancing many times before. She was always running with these other boys…and so, when I saw an opportunity to make my move, I did.

Patricia: José was really fun since the beginning.

José: And you see, she talks in the past because it’s not the case anymore.

Patricia: When he gets grumpy, I remind him how fun he used to be.

José: Well, somebody has to play the dwarfs; they are all equally important. I’m Grumpy.

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