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“My wife is always telling me, ‘Enjoy the moment. The moment is now,'” Andrés says one recent morning, sipping the foam from the coffee. He is dressed, as he usually is, in rumpled khakis and a dress shirt. His feet are bare; his hair, still damp, protrudes at strange angles from his head. “Sometimes I get close,” he sighs. “But pretty soon I’m thinking, Maybe you’d be happier if you were there, doing that. Then I’m off again.”

The past year has been an especially peripatetic one for the chef, both logistically and professionally. Holding out one hand, he ticks down the list on his fingers: First, there was the legal battle with the president of the United States–an imbroglio that originated in 2015, when then-candidate Donald J. Trump described Mexicans as “rapists” and criminals. Andrés, who was born in Spain and became a naturalized American citizen in 2013, promptly pulled out of a deal to open a restaurant in the lobby of the Trump hotel in D.C. Trump sued Andrés for $10 million for breach of contract; Andrés countersued for the $8 million he said he had already invested in the property, arguing that “the perception that Mr. Trump’s statements were anti-Hispanic made it very difficult to recruit appropriate staff for a Hispanic restaurant, to attract the requisite number of Hispanic food patrons for a profitable enterprise, and to raise capital for what was now an extraordinarily risky Spanish restaurant.”

Last spring, Trump and Andrés settled the lawsuit, but the bad blood between the two men persists, and in recent months Andrés has only stepped up his criticism of the president’s immigration policies–especially the decision, earlier this year, to revoke the temporary protective status granted in 2001 to hundreds of thousands of Salvadoreans. As Andrés points out to me, it was not that he didn’t support the idea of immigration reform. But many Salvadoreans work in the restaurant industry, and he worried about the hole their sudden exit would leave in the economy–not to mention, of course, his own business. The revocation order, he says, “wasn’t pragmatic, it wasn’t thought out. It just made for chaos.”

Then there were the emergency humanitarian aid trips–taken on behalf of Andrés’s charity, World Central Kitchen. Andrés traveled to storm-ravaged Houston in August to cook for survivors. He went to Puerto Rico a little over a month later to provide food and assistance as the island struggled to recover from Hurricane Maria. And he ventured to Southern California just a few months after that, joining food-world friends such as Tom Colicchio to whip up meals for residents displaced by wildfires. (Andrés received the James Beard Foundation’s 2018 Humanitarian of the Year award in February and was honored for his efforts onstage at the Academy Awards in March. Five days later, he announced that one of his D.C. restaurants would provide free sandwiches and drinks for students participating in the March for Our Lives rally.)

Andrés greets Hurricane Maria survivors arriving to receive a Thanksgiving meal at one of World Central Kitchen’s food distribution points in Puerto Rico last November. [Photo: John Francis Peters]

Finally, there have been the demands of his increasingly tentacular restaurant empire, ThinkFoodGroup, which has grown out of Andrés’s first American property, the 25-year-old Jaleo, near the National Mall in Washington. The business now includes 29 properties in eight cities in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Mexico–from the double-Michelin-starred Minibar, in Washington, D.C., to the sultry Spanish-inspired Bazaar, in Miami, to Mi Casa, in the Puerto Rican resort town of Dorado. Last April, ThinkFoodGroup forged an exclusive partnership with food-service management giant Compass Group to develop new concepts and expand on existing ones, including Beefsteak, Andrés’s three-year-old plant-centric restaurant chain. It’s also creating an Eataly-style food hall in New York’s Hudson Yards development.

Andrés clearly relishes the frenetic pace, but he admits it has taken a toll: While working in Puerto Rico last fall, he lost 20 pounds and was sick for days at a stretch. He says he is struggling to reckon with his newfound status as a political figure, a role he tells me he never sought out and does not particularly want. “Politics is a kind of game,” he says, “where you’re exchanging this for that.” Andrés isn’t interested in negotiating. He just wants to help the people who need it. Not that he has the diplomacy for politics, anyway: When the chef was refused entrance to an after-party following the annual Alfalfa Club dinner in D.C. in January–a glamorous affair that drew George W. Bush, Madeleine Albright, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, and others–he jumped to conclusions. He tweeted out a photo of himself at the door, surmising that Ivanka Trump was to blame, and tagged The Washington Post. It was retweeted 13,000 times. The next afternoon, he tweeted again: Ivanka had reached out to him. She’d had nothing to do with it. Along with his apology, he included a plea for immigration reform that would protect Dreamers.

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