Spanish-born chef José Andrés, 46, has 21 restaurants around the country and in Puerto Rico, including the hot-ticket Minibar in Washington, D.C.
Lately, however, it’s his love for Haiti that is getting attention.
Andrés is the host of the new PBS one-hour special “Undiscovered: Haiti With José Andrés,” in which he explores the Caribbean island, sometimes with friends like former President Bill Clinton accompanying him.
The idea for the documentary, which is appearing on PBS stations this fall, came about when Andrés visited Haiti after its catastrophic earthquake in 2010. Since then, he has returned more than 20 times.
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Andrés.
Q: What was so unforgettable about your first trip to Haiti, and how did that trip lead to this documentary?
A: I loved the bustling streets of Port-au-Prince, the untouched coastlines and pristine beaches, the mountains and the lush forests. It’s a fascinating place, but most people relate it to the earthquake, poverty and other challenges. So I said, “Let’s change that and show the world the real Haiti.” My hope is that through this documentary, people will see the country from a different, positive perspective and want to visit.
Q: After your first trip, you established the nonprofit World Central Kitchen to help Haitians feed themselves. How exactly does it do that?
A: We empower five different communities around the country by giving them smart solutions to hunger.
A big goal is to educate them about clean cookstoves, which use solar and natural gas. In Haiti, when people use clean cooking fuels instead of firewood, they’re preserving forests, farming and fishing industries because when they use too much wood, deforestation happens, then rains come and wash away the soil farmers would use.
We also teach people how to cook so they can feed themselves sustainably and have a network of volunteer chefs from the United States and from Haiti who go into these communities and give lessons.
Q: Given that you’re a chef, food is a big focus of the documentary. What are your favorite dishes?
A: I have so many, like the djon-djon mushroom, especially with chicken. It’s a wild, earthy mushroom that gives the dish a deep black color and intense flavor. Then there’s a traditional soup called joumou, which is made of pumpkin and fried pork called griot. To drink, I like akasan, made of corn and coconut milk. It’s almost like a warm milkshake.
Q: Besides food, what are your top adventures in the country that viewers can see in the documentary?
A: Visiting Citadelle Laferrière in Cap-Haïtien in northern Haiti. I was blown away by this incredible fortress that was built in the early 19th century during the slave revolution as a refuge for Haiti’s newly formed state. Sitting high up in the mountains and surrounded by green forests, you would not believe how stunning it is.
Q: You want more tourism in Haiti. Why should travelers consider it for a getaway?
A: Why shouldn’t they? In a single day you can eat incredible food in the street, swim in a waterfall deep in the jungle, hunt for djon-djon mushrooms, and swim at the most perfect beaches that aren’t overflowing with people.
The history is also incredible. Haiti was one of the first places that Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 and is the only place in the world where slaves overthrew their masters, beat Napoleon’s army and established a republic.
And, given that Port-au-Prince is only a two-hour flight from Miami, and the prices of everything are affordable, it really is ripe for exploration.
For the original report go to http://www.startribune.com/travel-q-a-chef-jos-xe9-andr-xe9-s-on-giving-and-getting-back-in-haiti/330340321/
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