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When Chef José Andrés took the stage to address the graduates of George Washington University at their commencement May 18, even he seemed surprised to have been the one chosen for the honor. “Wow,” Chef José said after the crowd had offered its perfunctory applause. But after humbly introducing himself — “My name is José Andrés and I am a cook” — the Spanish-born chef, who made his name and popularized small plates at restaurants like Jaleo, in Washington, D.C., gave a speech that built an instant buzz in the food world and beyond.
José’s speech, which began with a funny video showing some of his more famous pals (Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wilson, Al Roker, Eric Holder and others) turning down the gig, was as inspiring as it was amusing.
It included advice like: “There will always be critics and naysayers telling you what you cannot do, that it is impossible. There will always be more people bringing 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). Add 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 the criticism on top because those naysayers play an important role too. They motivate you to rise above, to challenge yourself, to prove them wrong.”
Chef José continued to say, “What could you do when life takes an unexpected turn? Friends, my advice: Don’t follow a recipe. Funny coming from a cook, no? When we go by the book, we lose our ability to adapt, to be creative. Sometimes you will 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.”
The grads and their guests seemed to devour every word of José’s advice, and when he wrapped things up, 25 minutes later, they stood and cheered for the humble chef who advised them to work toward making an impact on the world.
You can watch José’s entire speech here.
If you’re hungry for more advice to grads (and the rest of us) from chefs, here are a few morsels from commencement speeches past:
“Hone your skills first … it’s important to be patient.” – Bobby Flay, speaking at the International Culinary Center commencement in April 2014
“Remember … preparation is everything.” – Amanda Freitag, speaking at the Culinary Institute of America in June 2013
“To become one of the best, you have to work with the best.” – Daniel Boulud, speaking at The Culinary Institute of America in December 2013
“Know your goal and plan your path to that goal.” – Cornelius Gallagher, speaking to The Culinary Institute of America class of 2010
“Creativity is about awareness. Embrace the inspiration around you.” – Thomas Keller, speaking to The International Culinary Center grads in April 2013