In the days following Hurricane Maria, chef Jose Enrique found himself, unsurprisingly, cooking. Cooking for family, for friends and neighbors out of his eponymous restaurant in San Juan. “A couple of days after the hurricane, I kind of started handing out soups,” he says by telephone. He was making sancocho, a local specialty, for around 200 people. And then, he says, “José Andrés called—the chef—and he said he wanted to come down and help. And I had a generator in the restaurant and it was running.”
Enrique became the first Puerto Rican chef to be nominated for a James Beard Award in 2013, and his restaurant regularly turns up on best-of lists in publications around the world. These days, it sits quiet. The front windows blew in during the storm, and the roof lost its shingles. “The leaks aren’t leaks—it’s like if you put a hose through a room,” he says with a rueful laugh. He’s waiting for materials to get his generator working, to get back to normal life. But he has been busy.
Enrique and Andrés started out cooking in the parking lot in front of Enrique’s restaurant. “José Andrés came in, and then, out of my restaurant—which is small, it’s like a 45-seater—we did 2,400 people, then 7,000, then 13,000, then 17,000. It just kept going up until it was no longer reasonable for us to do it in that space. The operation outgrew it. Thankfully, we got the thumbs-up to move the whole thing to the coliseum, which is brand-new and it’s huge. The location is prime.”
As Enrique waits to go back to normal life, he is planning for the future. “I want to start fundraisers. I want them to go through José’s World Central Kitchen.” Enrique has some fundraisers scheduled in New York but mentions that “sometimes, when things like this happen, everybody wants to help, and then over time that kind of goes away a little bit. But there are always people who still want to help, so I want to build on that second wave.” He’s trying to make connections with chefs on the mainland to facilitate raising money for the nonprofit organization.
Besides the more practical concerns, like fundraising, Enrique has something else on his mind, something that he finds necessary: fun. “Where my restaurant is, that area is very much alive. Everybody goes there to drink fresh coconut water over their rum, to have juice over their vodka, and it’s very lively,” he says. “Last Sunday it was just packed. People were drinking, and there was loud music. We still need to drink, we still need music, we still need those outlets. Otherwise, you just go crazy.”
To that end, he says, he wants to start throwing parties in Puerto Rico. “You’re in your house, you can’t go to work, there’s nothing you can do. It starts getting on you, you know?” Enrique proposes, “I want to do like fundraiser fun-raising events.” He mentions DJs and drinks and dancing—all things that he feels can help people and their morale, while addressing the more practical considerations like roofing.
How is he able to cope with the untenable situation with such patience and good humor? He laughs and says, “It’s not like it’s in our blood. It’s not mystical. It’s more like, Well, my great-grandfather went through this and taught my grandfather what to do in this situation and so on and to my father and then to me.” He says all of this with admirable equanimity. What about his restaurant, the endless waiting, the collapsed roof? “You can’t focus—if you focus on something like that, you’ll just go nuts.”
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound longaniza, sliced
5 cubanelle peppers
15 ajís dulces
1 pound pork butt, diced
3 quarts water
1/2 pound yams
1/2 pound carrots
1/2 pound taro
1 bunch cilantro
3 recao (culantro) leaves
Limes for garnish
Heat olive oil in pot over medium heat.
Add longaniza, onion, garlic, and peppers. Cook until longaniza is browned and the onions have started to caramelize.
Put stove on high heat and add pork butt.
Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add water, yam, carrots, taro, cilantro, and recao.
Cook until all ingredients are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Garnish with lime, and season to taste.