How about you, José, do you cook at home?
Patricia: He loves to cook at home.
I saw on Instagram that you recently made sea urchin.
José: For Jacques Pepin. He was in town.
But what about when you’re just cooking for your family?
José: They like sea urchin, too.
Patricia: We love sea urchin, absolutely.
Do you often bring ingredients home from your restaurants?
José: Sometimes, but I like to shop. Because you want to know the real price that things cost for everybody. It’s very hard to understand what’s happening in the world if you are away from the world. If I want to talk about fighting hunger in America, the average family—how much they spend—I need to understand that, because if not, you are not in reality.
What’s he like to live with?
Patricia: When José is at home, after a few days it’s like: When is your next trip? And then when he leaves, it’s like: When is he coming back? Because when he’s away, my house is quiet. And then he comes back, it’s really fun. But I need to regroup.
He’s still fun?
Patricia: He’s still fun.
José: Grumpy, but fun.
Patricia: Grumpy, but fun.
Do you worry about him when he’s gone?
Patricia: Sometimes I do. Especially because I know the trips take a lot out of him emotionally.
How have the trips affected him?
Patricia: He was always someone who didn’t focus on the day-to-day little things. He always focused on the bigger things, but now, even more. He’s like, ‘Why do you worry about that? There are more important things.’ I totally share with him how if you can, you need to help. At the same time, I feel like I’m the balance between that and our family life. I try to keep him in touch with his family. He is totally the salt of my life. He makes my life more tasty. Also, he makes my life more crazy.
When he’s away and you talk, what kinds of stories has he shared with you? Are there any that have really stuck with you?
Patricia: When we talk, sometimes it’s a very short call just to let me know he’s fine. If he has more time, he’ll tell me about someone he has met that made an impact. In Puerto Rico, it was Lola, the daughter of a food truck owner. Lola was 9, and she would stay in the line making sandwiches the whole day. She wouldn’t eat until everyone else was done. Especially he talks about the kids he meets, and tells my kids about them—those who show generosity, or courage, or resiliency.
What are the most common misconceptions the public has about feeding people in disaster areas?
José: I don’t think there are misconceptions. With World Central Kitchen, we created something that is necessary, and I think we’ve shown that by inviting all the professional chefs and cooks to the task of feeding people in an emergency, we’ve done a better job. Because we understand the urgency. Actually, chefs, we have proven we are good at that. I say this in the humblest way.
In your work, you see the two extremes of feeding people—those spending a lot of money eating at your restaurants and those affected by disasters, hunger and poverty. I think it would be really hard to get both those things in your head.
José: No, on the contrary. It’s always been part of human society. They are two different things.
Patricia, how are you and your daughters involved in World Central Kitchen and the restaurants?
Patricia: What happens between José’s professional and personal life are kind of intertwined. We try to give him support and to be with him. So he will sometimes have people at home from the office, or work related, and we are here to receive them, and to help in any way. And then, it’s very funny, because my kids, when they go out, they’ll be texting José, ‘Oh, I ate this, I ate that, I just bought this.’ They are always talking about food and things they just tried.
I see you had Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico. [Hurricane Maria hit the island on Sept. 20, 2017; the family traveled there that November.]
Patricia: We all went. And [in 2018, after the Paradise, California, wildfire] two of my daughters and José went to California for Thanksgiving. Ines had surgery, she had her tonsils and adenoids out. We stayed here, and the three of them went.
Can you share any details about your trip to Puerto Rico after the hurricane?
Patricia: It was an amazing trip. It was very intense, physically and emotionally. But also it was very eye-opening for us. By then, José had spent two months in Puerto Rico. We could put faces to all the names and stories José was telling us about. Preparing [Thanksgiving] dinner and delivering it, and then sharing dinner that night with a lot of volunteers, it looked like a wedding, with maybe 10 or 20 long, long tables with people who came from different parts of Puerto Rico. People got to share their stories. We were crying the rest of the night. I realized at that moment how the work that World Central Kitchen had done was not only feeding people, but by having all these Puerto Ricans volunteer and help themselves it created a strong community, it empowered them, it gave them dignity.
Do your daughters embrace all of this?
Patricia: Yes, they have grown up knowing that it’s very important to give back. When we decided on the schools they went to, it was with a purpose. [The Woods Academy and Stone Ridge] are both schools that embrace values and social responsibility.
I feel like Bethesda is an intense place to raise children.
José: You mean, competition of who you are? Yes, we are very conscious of that. I don’t blame Chevy Chase or Bethesda. That’s humanity, meaning you need to show that ‘more is more.’
Patricia: We are lucky to live where we live…it offers many options and opportunities in terms of schools, sports, outdoor spaces, museums. …I remind my kids that with opportunities come responsibilities, so they have to be aware of that. They should take advantage of it and enjoy it, but be smart, conscious and responsible.
How have your lives changed since you’ve become so well known?
José: We’re known, but we are just one more family. I’m one more guy.
Patricia: I don’t see changes. I actually feel like there are more responsibilities.