Photograph courtesy White House/Pete Souza
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President Barack Obama presents the Outstanding American by Choice recognition to Chef José Andrés Puerta during a naturalization ceremony in the East Room of the White House, July 4, 2014.
Photograph courtesy White House/Pete Souza

José Andrés: What It Means to “Cook American” Food

I can’t decide which is my favorite American holiday.

As a chef, Thanksgiving usually wins because I get to spend a few days in my kitchen with my wife and daughters, cooking for friends both old and new.  But the Fourth of July comes pretty close. It’s the height of summer, the markets are overflowing with fruits and vegetables and I want to grill everything. And it doesn’t hurt that I live in Washington, DC, either. Come on people! Fireworks over the Washington monument. Reading aloud the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the National Archives. Astonishing!

And this year, it had a special meaning for me. It was my first Fourth of July as an American citizen. And on this holiday, just earlier this month, I was able to share the joy of becoming an American with a new group of citizens. I attended a special naturalization ceremony at the White House and was truly humbled to be honored by President Obama as an Outstanding American Citizen by Choice. As I stood beside the 25 members of military service and their spouses who were about to become American citizens, I could not have felt more proud to be one myself. Thinking back to this past November, when my wife and I were sworn in ourselves, I was filled with gratitude for all that this country has done for me, and has allowed me to do for it.

As a way for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to highlight the positive impacts that immigrants have on this country, the honor I was given this past Fourth of July also reminded me of how immigration should be seen as an opportunity for us to seize, not a problem for us to solve. And I was very proud to stand for so many who have come to this country, like me, to feed and nourish this great nation.

Working as a chef for so many years, I see the positive impacts that immigrants can have. In my own career, I have been fortunate enough to build a restaurant business that now employs thousands of Americans across the country, many of who are immigrants. The restaurant industry is the largest employer of immigrants. Many of them are working hard to achieve the American dream—oftentimes at multiple jobs.

Our food system relies on immigrants. Three-quarters of all crop workers in American agriculture were born outside the United States. These immigrants only want to succeed, not collect handouts, and given the right opportunities like the ones I was given, they can enrich our country’s beautiful mosaic of unique cultures, traditions and ideas.

As a chef and business owner, I not only see my role as one that gives immigrants the chance they need to succeed, but I also see that, just like sharing a meal together, we as a country need to come around the table and find common ground on the issue of immigration to create an answer that everyone will benefit from.

One of my favorite dishes that we serve at my America Eats Tavern is Mary Randolph’s Gazpacho. I love it because it will forever remind of where I came from and also where I now belong. Printed in her cookbook The Virginia Housewife in 1851, it is proof of one of the earliest culinary influences my native Spain had on this country. Nothing defines America better than that book. Although it’s not the first cookbook printed in America, you could argue it was the first one printed in America written by an American, and her Gazpacho recipe demonstrates just how far back the notion of this country as a cultural melting pot goes. Delicious and refreshing, it is just a small example of the many gifts that come from abroad, and this is my recipe that was inspired by it.

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A bowl of gazpacho served at America Eats Tavern in Washington, DC. Photograph by Instagram user patrickeverson

America Eats Tavern’s Gazpacho Inspired by Mary Randolph

For the pipirrana:

2 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into ¼ inch cubes
½ seedless cucumber, peeled and cut into small cubes
¼ green bell pepper, seeded and cut into small cubes

1. Combine the cubed tomatoes, cucumber and green bell pepper in a small bowl and set aside to marinate until ready to use.

For the gazpacho: 

2 pounds plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
¼ sweet Spanish onion, roughly chopped
½ green bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 seedless cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¾ cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
Tabasco sauce, as needed
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Maldon sea salt, to taste
Chervil or parsley, for garnish

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, purée the tomatoes, onions, peppers, cucumbers and garlic with ½ cup of water and the vinegar until smooth. Season with kosher salt then continue to purée the mixture, slowly pouring in the olive oil, until very smooth. Pour the gazpacho through a fine mesh strainer and into a pitcher. Place in the refrigerator to cool.

2. To serve, add 4-5 dashes of Tabasco sauce along the bottom of 6 shallow bowls. Place 1-2 tablespoons of the pipirrana into the center of the bowls. Season the pipirrana with Maldon salt and garnish the bowls with whole chervil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Place the bowls on the table with the pitcher of cooled gazpacho, and pour into each bowl when ready to eat.

This story is part of National Geographic’s special eight-month Future of Food series.