Anyone who knows me, knows that for the next four weeks, I’ve got one thing on my mind, futbol.
Okay, soccer as we call it here in America. The game of the people. All eyes are now on Brazil for the World Cup. So don’t even think about asking me to join a meeting on a day when Spain is playing. I will most likely be at one of my restaurants watching the game screaming, yelling laughing or crying depending on how Spain plays.
As a chef, I have traveled to many countries, experienced many cultures and have learned about the world because the power of food transcends our differences in color, language, and beliefs. Our foods, the dishes we share with people we love or people we just met, they all tell a story of where we come from, of our history, of our values. As the great Brillant-Savarin said, “tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”
Soccer can be just as powerful. My friend John Carlin wrote in 2010 in Time Magazine “With the exception of war, nothing brings out a shared sense of national identity, of almost family belonging, like an international soccer competition.” Today around the world, people are getting ready for another World Cup. Brazil is welcoming tourists from all over the world, sports bars from the U.S., to Spain, and Japan and everywhere in between will be filled with people showing their pride and cheering for their teams.
I was in South Africa in 2010 with my friends Diego and Ignaci when Spain won the World Cup. It was amazing to be there and watch our country win the championship. Politically, it was a powerful milestone. We are a small but divided country. However, that day, Spaniards all over the world were united, and everyone waved the flag proudly.
That was the year that Paul the octopus predicted Spain’s win. I remember I tweeted out that if Spain won, I would take octopus off my menus for a time in his honor. Unfortunately for my restaurants, I had to follow through on my promise.
If Spain wins today octopus is out of all my menus! Word
— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) July 7, 2010
Soccer, Just Like Food, is About Identity
Soccer, just like food, is about identity. It makes you ask yourself who you are. I am from Spain, my three daughters were born in America, and we share the love of soccer. We always root for Spain, but my oldest daughter Carlota often asks me, “Daddy, if the U.S. and Spain were to play together whom would we root for?” And I tell her, I would be so happy to see that happen because that means that we would be winners regardless. To see the country where we come from and the country that we call home play together and see our Spanish and American friends side by side yelling in English and Spanish “Go USA!” “A por ellos, Viva España!” It would be a beautiful moment.
This is the same in food. We know where we come from, but we also can know where we belong. It makes me think of one of my favorite dishes, gazpacho and one of Spain’s earliest influences on American Cooking. I am a big collector of cookbooks. The first time I opened a copy of “The Virginia Housewife” by Mary Rudolph, I saw a recipe for gazpacho. This was a cookbook that dates back to 1824! But it was unlike any recipe I had ever seen before. It was uniquely American but influenced by early Spanish settlers. So when my Spanish friends tell me that Americans do not know how to eat and that they don’t have any food culture beyond hamburger and hot dogs, I tell them about the gazpacho and of the many traditions and history that connect our two countries.
José Andres’ World Cup Traditions
Whether it’s Spain, the U.S. or whoever is playing, my family and I always watch the game together with our friends. Sometimes, we don’t even root for the same team, but together, we share the love of the game.
Another great writer, Franklin Foer, said in his book How Soccer Explains the World, that soccer “…is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community’s fabric, a repository of traditions.” On game day, we have our traditions. My wife and daughters are in the kitchen with me. Each one has a task so when our guests arrive we are ready to welcome everyone with a drink, a glass of cava, or even a glass of gazpacho. We share simple tapas like endives with orange and goat cheese or mussels with potato chips, jamón iberico with ripe melon, and sometimes we’ll make a paella outside over an open flame just the way we used to do when I was a boy back in Spain. I love being able to create these new memories with my family and friends, coming together around food.
Soccer and Food: Finding a Common Ground
Soccer, like our culinary traditions, can also be about finding a common ground. When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, I asked myself, “What can I, as a chef, do to help?” and the obvious answer was to cook a meal. I called up a few friends and together we went to Haiti with about 15 solar stoves. We traveled from village to village cooking humble meals of chicken, rice and lentils using the power of the sun.
It was my first trip to Haiti, and I was struck by what I saw. It’s no secret that Haiti has always had its challenges. The country is known as the “republic of NGO’s,” of bureaucracy and heart-breaking poverty. However, as I talked to the people of Haiti and learned about their food and their traditions, I fell in love with the country. In the midst of that tragedy, I saw hope and the smiles of young children. I was using a big solar cookstove, and there were children all around me fascinated by this thing they had never seen before.
They were kicking around a soccer ball and they started shouting “blan, blan” (foreigner), and asked me to join their game. We played until the food was ready, and I called them over to eat. They were shy at first, but they quickly dug in and showed me the most beautiful smiles, full of joy. As you travel throughout Haiti, you’ll see the brightly colored tap-tap buses painted with beautiful images of everyday life. I was struck to see the gods of soccer like Lionel Messi of Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese player of Real Madrid, and the Haitian children screaming their names as the buses passed them by.
On that same trip to Haiti, I was sitting at the police headquarters in Delmas where a station nearby had collapsed a few months prior. The police commander found a signal and turned on the TV where we were watching the news about the latest relief efforts. We all watched the news saddened by what was happening as the country was trying to rebuild itself.
This was in April 2010 and Real Madrid was playing FC Barcelona in the Clasico match in Madrid, Spain. The commander looked one last time at the news, he lowered his head and prayed. He wiped his tears and switched the channel to the game. It was as though for those brief few hours, he knew he was going to find joy in something for the first time since the earthquake. For those of us in that station we didn¹t forget about the reality of Haiti, but that game gave us a chance to smile and be hopeful.
This story is part of National Geographic’s special eight-month “Future of Food” series.