'I am just a cook'

  • Chef Jose Andres visits UMES' Marriott Teaching Kitchen at Shady Grove

    Thursday, October 31, 2019
    Jose Andres samples Mario Sep's empanadas as Susan Callahan looks on

    It's not every day a chef with a rock star résumé stops by your kitchen to talk shop and samples your mother's recipe for empanadas. 

    But that's what Mario A. Sep and his classmates experienced when World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés visited the University of Maryland Eastern Shore's hospitality and tourism management program at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville. 

    “I remember helping my mom (fix meals) since I was … 8-years-old,” Sep said in an interview with a WJLA TV reporter. “So, for me, making this dish for him is very, very great. I feel very happy.” 

    Ever the diplomat, the Spaniard took a bite and told Sep: “It's very smart to say 'it's my mom's recipe,' because nobody will ever say there's anything wrong with it.” 

    The banter elicited laughs and smiles in a day full of them where Andrés was celebrated by aspiring chefs, educators and civic leaders at the institution in suburban Washington, D.C. 

    Andrés appearance at UMES' satellite program at Shady Grove was more than a year in the making, thanks to chef instructor Susan Callahan's perseverance. 

    Callahan and Andrés have known one another for a quarter century, dating back to when both worked in downtown Washington at eateries on E Street; he at Jaleo and she at the D.C. Central Kitchen.

    Callahan thanks Andres for visiting her teaching kitchen

    “He was generous with his time (then), and brought his staff to work on our kitchen as volunteers and help in training,” Callahan said. “We became friends. I have followed his career … watching him rocket into super stardom.” 

    Callahan took her students to Frederick Community College in February 2018 to hear him speak and decided “he needed to come and meet (UMES) students” she teaches. 

    “I wanted students to hear him say what I have known for a long time,” she said. “To be successful, you need to make more than money. You need to be a global citizen. You need to care about the person next to you and the people on the other side of the globe.” 

    Andrés embodies “global citizen,” known not only for his popular, trendy restaurants and business savvy, but for humanitarian efforts to feed the hungry and downtrodden. 

    He was the driving force behind a mobile kitchen that fed thousands of displaced Puerto Ricans when Hurricane Maria destroyed much of that U.S. territory in 2017.  When Hurricane Dorian this fall wreaked the same devastation on the Bahamas, Andrés and his army of volunteers were there, too, to provide meals. 

    “José is a very busy man,” Callahan said. “We were concerned when he went to the Bahamas for emergency relief that our visit might be delayed.” 

    His visit to the Shady Grove campus enabled him to take in activities at the Mobile Market, a free food distribution event that takes place on the fourth Monday of every month with food donated from the Capital Area Food Bank. Students and community members lined up to receive free fruits and vegetables, where Andrés handed out food and posed for photos. 

    He then made his way to UMES' Marriott Teaching Kitchen, where he met with Callahan' culinary students, greeting each one and sampling some of their food while answering questions. 

    “How were you able to balance family life and professional life,” asked Kara Yanez, the mother of a 2-year-old daughter. 

    “It is one of the biggest challenges we have,” Andrés said. “I think any job has its challenges, but I think our industry has the challenge bigger than anybody.” 

    Yanez told a WJLA reporter after chatting with Andrés “It gives me a little more encouragement that I can make this work with my family and my career choices.” 

    Callahan said, “He inspired our students, and I was thrilled to be in his orbit.” 

    Andrés was also a panelist for a “Civic Engagement” gathering called “Ingredients for Change,” part of a series held twice a semester at Shady Grove. It was there he also accepted a local government proclamation declaring Oct. 28 as “Chef José Andrés Day” in Montgomery County. 

    Callahan most admires Andrés for his “kindness and humility.” 

    After all these years, she said, he responds to compliments and accolades with “I am just a cook.”


    Details in this report include information generated by WJLA TV (Washington, D.C.) and the media relations office of the Universities at Shady Grove, which also provided the photographs.