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Last night, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon ditched its usual digs in Rockefeller Plaza to take a trip to the Caribbean. Not on a vacation, so much as a goodwill effort to bring the beautiful sights, sounds, smells, and people of Puerto Rico to a national audience a little over a year after Hurricane Maria devastated parts of the island. As we’ve heard from chefs before, the road to recovery for the Puerto Rican economy is tourism, ideally dropping dollars at local restaurants and businesses to put money into the hands of our fellow citizens themselves. Of course, Puerto Rican food had to be a part of the special one-hour roadshow, so to show him around, Fallon enlisted none other than chef José Andrés who reiterated the message that Puerto Rico is open for business.
Andrés may be from Spain, but the chef told Fallon he has been in love with the island ever since his work in the Spanish Navy took him there over 25 years ago. It’s that love of Puerto Rico that also led Andrés to board a plane just days after Hurricane Maria to launch a massive recovery effort with his World Central Kitchen organization, serving nearly four million meals. As Puerto Rico has begun to heal, Andrés joined Fallon to introduce the TV host to some authentic local bites.
The pair began their journey at El Rinconcito Latino, a beachside eatery in Piñones, just east of San Juan. First order of business? Ordering up some rum sours. Then, as we teased yesterday, Andrés and Fallon chowed down on alcapurria stuffed with carne and crab meat. Then they move on to pastelitos (or empanadillas) filled with octopus. Andrés expertly trolls Fallon by prolonging his description of the dishes before letting his guest take an actual bite. But once he does, Fallon is hooked.
“Every chef in Puerto Rico has their own little secret ingredients from the island, ingredients from other parts of the world that became one,” Andrés explained. “Puerto Rico obviously developed their own cooking. And to me today, the cooking of Puerto Rico is one of the most interesting cookings [sic], not only in America, but anywhere around the world.”
While walking on the beach, Fallon asks Andrés how mainland Americans can support their fellow citizens on the island. Andrés responds by impressing upon the importance of soliciting local businesses. “Because in the end, the small businesses is what keeps the world running, especially in America. I mean, if we help one small business at a time, I know that the local economy in Puerto Rico will come back on its own, because those are great, hard-working American people.”
Fallon and Andrés also discuss the recovery efforts World Central Kitchen and its volunteers undertook over the past 15 months, which the chef wrote about in his book We Fed an Island. Andrés is quick to give credit where he thinks it’s due: To Puerto Ricans themselves. “The people of Puerto Rico fed Puerto Rico.”
Watch the entire episode, which also features Lin-Manuel Miranda, the touring company of Hamilton, Bad Bunny, José Feliciano, and Ozuna at nbc.com.