Host Nathan Thornburgh kicks off the new era of The Trip with a conversation in chef José Andrés’ Beverly Hills hotel suite, the day after the Emmy awards.
The Trip: Drinking with Exceptional People Around the World, Roads & Kingdoms’ travel-and-booze podcast, always started each episode with the voice of R&K editor-at-large and frequent hypeman Anthony Bourdain. After a long, tough summer following Tony’s death, Roads & Kingdoms is incredibly pleased to relaunch the podcast, with more vigor than ever. We’re going weekly, we’ll be recording on location out in the world more often, we’ll be breaking the seal on more bottles of odd alcohols than ever before. New episodes each Monday.
Host Nathan Thornburgh kicks off the new era of The Trip with a conversation in chef José Andrés’ Beverly Hills hotel suite, the day after the Emmy awards. In Episode 7: A Damn Fine Mezcal, José, Nathan and R&K co-founder Matt Goulding talk about the chef’s experience filming in his native Asturias for Anthony Bourdain:Parts Unknown, his new book, “We Fed an Island: The Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time,” and what it means to be kissed by mezcal.
Here is a transcript of the conversation:
Nathan Thornburgh: We’re in Beverly Hills, which is not a place I’m sure I’ve ever been before, at the SLS hotel in José Andrés’ hotel room while Jose is doing another podcast. Not ours. We are in Los Angeles because we went to the Emmys last night, which like being in a suite in Beverly Hills, is just not something that I had really picked out in my own future. And we won an Emmy award … We shot it with Tony. It was the last project we ever shot with Bourdain, and it’s just been this incredibly fucked up combination of emotions.
Matt Goulding: Yeah, it’s a really strange cocktail of emotions. I mean, it’s like just when this year could not get any more surreal, last night happened. I think for us as Emmy virgins, you know, the high is really high. It all feels totally unexpected, and lovely, and over the top, and wonderful.
José Andrés: You win an Emmy, and that’s what you do now?
Goulding: Yeah, it’s all really surreal. A pretty wild, bittersweet kind of moment.
Andrés: You cheated. You cheated. You cheated because you have an angel looking after you up there.
Thornburgh: Touched by an angel. He hated all the tux events and the fancy this and that, but he loved the Emmys. He would come here and roll real deep, and be at the Chateau, and bring the whole crew. We won our Emmy for our small project, but he won an Emmy for Best Writing, which is the one that he had been looking for all these years and never won when he was alive.
Goulding: Well, it’s also extremely fucked up that somehow in 15 years of making some of the best-written television that he never won that award before. To watch Lydia up there and claim the award on his behalf was a deeply, deeply emotional moment for everybody in there.
Thornburgh: You know, we had a run with Tony on the podcast, and it was a six-episode season that we did earlier this year. I’ve been talking with Josie, our producer, about how do you restart a podcast that opened every time with Tony’s voice saying here we are and this is what we’re going to do? So the only way I could think to do it is with you two guys.
Obviously, José had a different relationship. Matt had a different relationship, but there’s something in having known Tony the way that you guys did that makes me want to talk to you.
Thornburgh: Every week, we’re going to have a new conversation and it’s all going to be in his name and his memory. We’ve been having to watch his episodes, including your incredible episode from Asturias.
Goulding: Tell us a little bit about the experience. What was that like being able to go back to your homeland and show him where you grew up?
Andrés: I didn’t give a damn about having cameras. Actually, for me, the only thing I cared about was, you know, me having a good time with my friend and showing him the place I love the most. That was very special.
Goulding: This had been a dream of yours for a long time, to go to Asturias with one of your best friends.
Andrés: I was very nervous because, you know, he goes through the most amazing places on earth where he does very wild things. Is this going to be good enough for the show? In the end, I saw that it was not so much me showing him the region where I was born. He was showing it to me.
The things we did together were great, but what I want to see is the things we were not together. For different reasons, to try to maximize time, there are a few times we broke apart.
I spent a whole morning going for gooseneck barnacles, and he didn’t come because I explained to him what we had to do. He was like, oh no man I have enough with Jiu-jitsu. He was getting beaten every morning playing Jiu-jitsu somewhere. I feel bad because he invited me to go him three days and I will go bed at 5:00 a.m., having cigars, alone in the streets of Oviedo. And I swear to God, every morning I wake up and he would send me text messages saying, “loser, you’re a loser.” And I’m like, yes, I am.
Goulding: I think over the last few months like the good part is that what Tony cared about more than hearing his own voice, what he cared about more than, you know, sort of impressing upon the world his vision of how it’s supposed to be, was letting everyone else speak. The entire basis of his show was that. The entire basis of his career was that: giving a voice to people out there who have an interesting thing to say, who have a mere meal they want to share, who have a story that they feel is pertinent to the way the world works.
Andrés: If you think about it, what he was doing, he was bringing walls down, and building bridges, and connecting people, and telling people to not be afraid of those who are not like us. Don’t be afraid to sit down in a crappy place and order every single thing you don’t recognize on the fucking menu. So, Tony was ahead of his time. He’s a guy that began bringing down walls when some people were thinking that walls were the solution to all the issues that we face.
Goulding: Now that he’s gone, what, what do you think—food media, television journalism— what should people do to kind of build upon the foundation that Tony set for us?
Andrés: I think it’s going to be hard now. He always called bullshit where he saw it. He would do it, sometimes in a very drastic way. But more often than not, he would do it in a very humble, polite way. We’re going to be losing that voice that called the bullshit where he saw it. I only hope that everybody will remember that Tony was genuine.
Thornburgh: I was talking about that with somebody recently. A lot of people claim imposter syndrome, you know, like where you reach a level of fame and you think you didn’t deserve it. Most of the time, those who claim it are just bullshitting. They actually think they’re the shit and that they deserve everything good that’s happening to them. Tony would talk about this so much. I always was thinking somewhere Tony knows he deserves this because he has this ridiculous set of talents. Right? He was a writer. He was tall and handsome, great on television, this incredible voice talent. All of this stuff, but he genuinely did not believe that he deserved what he got. That kind of fueled what you’re talking about, José.
I mean we have a wall of really ill-advised calf tattoos of Tony Bourdain’s face that people have inked themselves with at Roads & Kingdoms. He moved people, but he always thought, I don’t know why I’m here, but since I’m here I’m going to try to make some good out of it. And that’s a really high moral standard.
Andrés: All these nonsense we’re talking here. Uh, it’s thanks to these amazing mezcal we’re drinking. You can drink and feel Oaxaca and every, every time you bring the math counting to your lips, it’s so smooth, it’s almost like he’s kissing you. So Eduardo, right now you don’t know, but my friend because of the mezcal you made, you’re kissing all of us. You know what? I like the rainbow. So don’t give a damn. Thank you.
Goulding: José, you’re in town for a very important reason though. Tomorrow you have a book coming out, “We’ve Fed an Island,” about your adventures in Puerto Rico. Congratulations.
Andrés: Thank you.
Thornburgh: Matt and I have talked about you a lot with Tony. As it happens, you’re a guy that everybody wants to kind of talk about. And we knew that Tony had this relationship with you. This thing that Tony loved about you…you get the things done that he wants to see in the world. I think he felt that you two just had very similar goals, objectives, desires.
Tony was always going to be the rebel poet, but not the guy who’s actually making this shit happen. And that’s what’s so amazing about “We Fed an Island.” There’s a document of what that philosophy in action is, right? He loved that about you.
Andrés: I think he always appreciated that I had my little three years of TV fame at the maximum level in Spain, and one day I woke up in the morning and I said no more. And I like everybody would like, why no more? Because I want to be doing other things. And the other things were family, friends, business, my restaurant. I think Tony always gave me good words of wisdom: Everybody finds what they’re best at in life.
In the case of “We Fed an Island,” it was this moment where we forgot an island of 3.5 million Americans. Obviously, there are many good people that try to do their best, but in those moments, trying to do the best is not enough.
You can say that even if Maria was a disaster creativity will allow you to adapt, to fix, the unforeseen circumstances that created the mess that Puerto Rico became. That’s what Tony was proud of—that we were a group of cooks who use our creativity in our kitchens to feed the few, but in this case, we went into Puerto Rico and used that same creativity to feed the many.
And that’s what you’re going to see in the book; how a group of chefs and cooks, against all odds, transform a mess into an opportunity. We didn’t feed everybody, but we fed a lot of people. More important, we kind of created this spark to make others fix problems.
But we had thousands of people die, and I have a feeling that if the federal government activated its help quicker, faster, maybe the number would be smaller. We will never know. And that’s the sad part of this whole story.
Thornburgh: I think especially when we started seeing those numbers come out, you realize how fragile life was after the storm. That number, whatever it was, would have been higher if people weren’t getting meals in the way that they were.
It seems so simple, but nobody was doing it. And ultimately the idea of activating kitchens that are already there, getting local people to work on saving themselves, is very revolutionary.
Andrés: I had the plan to feed over a million people a day, and it still doesn’t sound crazy. I knew I could do it. I wish I got the support. We could only do 120,000-150,000 meals a day for a few weeks, but I wish we reached that full million.
What we did was not only feeding people what we did was contacting people and learning their issues. That means intelligence. Intelligence allows us to make smart decisions. You only think you’re doing something, if at the end of the day, giving aid to Americans is dropping a helicopter and putting 1 million portions of food in the middle of an open field. But, actually, you are only throwing food at the problem, instead of investing in the solution by bringing food daily. Yeah, we gather important intelligence. World Central Kitchen was delivering food and we were delivering blue tarps. Sometimes we were delivering generators. Sometimes we were delivering beds for the elderly. Sometimes we were bringing medicines. We were doing more than only feeding the body and the stomach.
Goulding: I want to bring it back to Mr. Bourdain here, just because he always says the best. On the back of the book, right below President Bill Clinton’s extraordinary praise for what you guys did there, Tony had this to say: “When disaster hit Puerto Rico, José Andrés didn’t wait. He just showed up, and using what resources he found there and what he could draw from elsewhere, he was soon feeding tens of thousands of people—eventually providing more meals than either FEMA or the Red Cross. His big heart and boundless energy cannot be restrained by red tape. People were hungry and José is a chef. Chefs feed people. He, better than anyone, understood that. He is a leader, an innovator, and the true hero.”
A lot of truth there.
This conversation was edited and condensed. Listen to the full podcast below.