“I’ve never been in a lawsuit in my entire 47 years of life,” he tells PEOPLE in the latest issue, on newsstands Friday. “I’ve always kind of found a resolution to every problem just by dialogue and common sense.”
Andrés found himself at the receiving end of a lawsuit from Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign after he pulled out of a restaurant project in Washington, D.C.’s Trump Hotel. The move was a response to the then-candidate’s controversial remarks about Hispanic immigrants, which the chef claims made it difficult to attract staffers and customers.
“I didn’t think the business was viable. I was trying really to help, for them to have a good outcome,” says Andrés, whose restaurant company Think Food Group initially contacted the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, with their concerns before bailing when Trump’s rhetoric continued. “I did what I had to do. I was put in that situation.”
What he didn’t expect was to then be taken to court by the man seeking the nation’s highest office. “I was very surprised that somebody that created and is very proud of the art of the deal wouldn’t come up with a deal with me,” he says of Trump—who has previously said that he “doesn’t settle” lawsuits, despite having done so on multiple occasions.
Trump’s side claims pulling out of the contract caused them financial damages. “In short, the parties entered into a valid and enforceable lease, which the tenant clearly breached by walking out and failing to perform its obligations, thereby entitling the landlord to recover damages in the form of unpaid rent, cost of build out, lost profits and other expenses,” Alan Garten, executive vice president for the Trump Organization, said in a statement in January.
Andrés, a Spanish immigrant himself, has made a name for himself as one of D.C.’s most prominent chefs, and his commitment to celebrating diverse cuisines shows in his work—with popular restaurants like Jaleo, Oyamel, and Zaytinya specializing in Spanish, Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine, respectively. He also has a close relationship with former President Obama, who has been a regular at his eateries and honored the chef with the National Humanities Medal.
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And despite his issue with the current President, he still has the utmost respect for his family. “I think highly of Ivanka and Donald Trump, Jr. I think they are really good people, classy people,” he says. “I welcome Ivanka to D.C. If she’s around, my restaurants are always open for everybody. All my life, I’ve had plenty of friends who disagree with many things, but we’re not less friends for that.”
As far as the ongoing legal dispute, Andrés is confident. “I think we have a very good case and if we have to get to the end I think I will win it,” he says. “But I don’t feel pride in winning or losing; I think for me the best win is when everybody keeps moving forward together.”
For more on José Andrés’ story, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.