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Award-winning chef José Andrés is on a mission to feed those in need through his organization, World Central Kitchen. Find out how.
José Andrés is a superstar in the food world. The Michelin-starred chef, who was born in Spain, is the founder of the restaurant group ThinkFoodGroup, which runs more than 30 restaurants. He has also appeared on numerous television shows (including Top Chef and Iron Chef America) and has authored five cookbooks. Today, the 52-year-old is busier than ever. In 2010, after the earthquake in Haiti, the chef started World Central Kitchen (WCK), which provides healthy meals to people affected by disasters in places such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Uganda, Zambia and more. When the pandemic hit, Andrés and his team fed people all over the United States while also helping small restaurants devastated by the lockdowns—they paid them to create meals to feed people in need. He was awarded the 2015 National Humanities Medal by the White House and has won Humanitarian of the Year from the James Beard Foundation. Here, the inspiring chef talks about his mission—and shares how you can give back.
What inspired you to start World Central Kitchen?
I am a cook, I have always loved to feed people. But as a chef at restaurants, the most I can ever do is feed a few. After the terrible earthquake in Haiti in 2010, I asked myself what a cook could do. I realized that the best answer was to use all my skills to begin feeding many, wherever and whenever it is needed.
How have the past two years shifted what WCK does?
The biggest change has been developing partnerships with a huge number of restaurants around the U.S. and the world, places where people need a meal. We know that the lockdowns didn’t just make hunger worse in communities, they also hit restaurants hard. Many restaurant workers have been struggling to stay above water. In Oakland, we worked with Ayesha and Stephen’s organization Eat.Learn.Play. to serve tens of thousands of meals a day alongside more than 125 restaurants.
At the very core of our work, it is always the same: Wherever there is a fight for hungry people to eat, we will be there.
Where do you see WCK in five years?
Let me start by saying that in 50 years, maybe there will be no World Central Kitchen. There will always be disasters, and the climate crisis will probably make them worse. But I envision a world in which communities are resilient to those disasters, where people come together and feed their neighbors in times of need. We all have the spirit of World Central Kitchen in us.
Until that day, we will work toward that vision, working with communities not only after disasters but also to prepare for them. We will stand side by side with farmers and fishers as they strengthen their own local food systems and work to build a strong network of cooks around the world who will be able to quickly get into the kitchen during a crisis. We will also be working with government officials and the private sector to make sure that everyone is on board with this vision—this idea that access to food is a universal human right.
What’s your advice to those who want to get involved in a cause but don’t know how to start?
Take the first step. Do research about organizations in your community, and reach out to see how you can support them. Some organizations need volunteers in person, some will have projects you can do virtually, and others just need money or your voice to help advance their mission. If you can just take that first step forward, you can make a difference!
Interview by Bethany Heitman; Photography by Dan Martensen/Trunk Archive