The 10 Best Lines From José Andrés’ GWU Commencement Speech

The celebrated chef explains the life lessons he's learned through cooking.

José Andrés, venerated chef, James Beard winner, and chef-owner of ThinkFoodGroup, gave yesterday’s commencement speech at George Washington University. The Spanish-born Andrés—who taught a class at GWU on how food shapes civilization—is credited with introducing America to both traditional and innovative Spanish cuisine.

“My name is José Andrés, and I am a cook,” Andrés begins, going on to say that he initially questioned if he was qualified to give the commencement speech. ”Even my daughters said, ‘They asked you to speak or to cook lunch for the graduates?‘,” he tells the audience. Andrés dropped out of high school, went to culinary school, and got his education in the “school of life.”

Andrés explains how his career as a cook taught him some of life’s most important lessons—everything from forging your own path in the world to embracing failure. “I have learned, through pursuing my passion, I can have an impact through the power of food,” he says.

Here are 10 pieces of advice from chef Andrés:

On Life’s Unpredictability

“Sometimes, you’ll find yourself without an ingredient or two. It will seem like everything is going wrong. If things don’t go as expected, make the unexpected work in your favor. Change the name of the dish.”

On Charity

“It’s not about giving bread to orphans. It’s about building a bakery that can fit an orphanage and sell bread in the city.”

On Building a Foundation

“I realized then that if I want to reach my dreams, first I had to lay down the foundation. The same is true of the journey you are about to take. You may want to do the cooking, but first you must learn how to build the fire.”

On Perseverance

“My story is not one of overnight success. When I found myself alone in a new country, I didn’t buy a lottery ticket. I didn’t hit the jackpot. I just kept going.”

On the American Dream

“It’s not about having high paying jobs, big houses, fast cars. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the new American dream is much bigger. It’s about achieving your success, but also making an impact on the world. What you create for yourselves, you must also create for others. We need to know ourselves, embrace our individuality, but it’s not only the ‘I,’ it’s the ‘we.’”

On Rejection

“Don’t be afraid of rejection. Don’t be afraid to knock on that door. Don’t miss the opportunity to sail into your future.”

On Community

“The world is yours to claim not because of a diploma, but because we have each other…never forget that we are only as good as the people we have around us.”

On Critics

“There will always be critics and naysayers telling you what you cannot do. That it is impossible. There will always be more people bring you down than lifting you up. It seems that way sometimes, but let me tell you: get a cocktail shaker, if you are over 21. At your heart, your soul, your brain, your instinct, and shake it hard. Serve it straight-up, but let me give you a secret ingredient: add a dash of criticism on top because those naysayers play an important role, too. They motivate you to rise above, to challenge yourself, to prove them wrong.”

On the Meaning of Success

“Success is no longer about achieving your goals. It’s about using your skills and talents to do something bigger in the world.”

On the Meaning of Life

“Sometimes our journeys might seem uncertain and without purpose, but every step we take brings us closer to understanding why we are here.”

 

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