September 13, 2018; WECT-TV (Wilmington, NC)
In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Chef José Andrés helped feed the island’s hungry residents. In 2011, he founded the nonprofit World Central Kitchen (WCK) and began building a global network of chefs “creating smart solutions to hunger and poverty,” as described on the organization’s website. Feeding people during natural disasters has become one of the signature efforts of the foundation. WCK pitched in during Superstorm Sandy, cooked as many as 100,000 meals a day in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and twice set up kitchens during wildfires in California. Before Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas over the weekend, WCK already had two kitchens sourced and staffed in Wilmington and Raleigh, with three more operations on standby.
For Andrés, who owns more than two dozen restaurants and has earned distinctions including the 2011 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef of the Year and two Michelin stars, WKC is an essential part of his work, a true passion project. He joined the Wilmington team over the weekend and, through Twitter, announced that WKC is now feeding about 20,000 people a day in areas hit by Florence. Fresh food is available for first responders, people in shelters, and anyone in the area in need of a meal.
For his work in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, Andrés was honored as the Humanitarian of the Year at the 2018 James Beard Awards. Based on his experience there, he wrote a book with Richard Wolffe called We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time. Andrés believes chefs have a practical way of looking at and solving problems that can be put to good use not only in the midst of disasters, but also to solve issues of hunger and food justice. Speaking with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air last week about his book, Andrés offered an anecdote to underscore this point: Rather than waiting for bread to be flown into Puerto Rico, WCK focused on getting generators and diesel fuel to existing bakeries, so they could get back in business and start baking bread. They also found ways to “commandeer kitchens,” including the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, the largest indoor arena on the island, to scale up food production.
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Andrés believes chefs and food workers have specialized skills and an essential role to play during disaster relief efforts and should be included in the planning process. He has spent a lot of time building a network of chefs around the world, so WKC resources can be activated when and where they are needed. As he said on Fresh Air:
If you have to feed people, it’s only very normal and logical to me that you will bring cooks. And that’s what we do. Kitchens, restaurants are chaos. And chefs, restaurant people—we manage chaos very well. After a hurricane, it’s a lot of chaos. And people go hungry, and people go thirsty. And what we are very good at is understanding the problem and adapting. And so, a problem becomes an opportunity. That’s why I think chefs…more and more, you’re going to be seeing more of us in these situations. We’re practical. We’re efficient. We can do it quicker, faster and better than anybody.
For the essential ongoing work WCK is doing in the wake of Hurricane Florence (#ChefsForCarolinas), donations and volunteers are still needed.—Eileen Cunniffe