José Andrés and World Central Kitchen: COVID-19 Food Hero

by NYC Food Policy Editor

Why They’re Food Heroes: During COVID-19, WCK has worked to deliver 35 million individually packaged, fresh meals to communities in need in the United States, the Dominican Republic, Spain, and Indonesia. The organization also launched the #ChefsForAmerica worldwide emergency food relief initiative, providing demand for restaurant business by purchasing meals from restaurants and delivering them to local communities. In the U.S. their Restaurants for the People program has followed the same model, working to tackle two crises in the food system in tandem by purchasing meals directly from small restaurants and food businesses and delivering them to communities in need. Active in over 400 cities in 35 states, the initiative has played a crucial role in supporting restaurants struggling to stay open during the pandemic, while also providing fresh, delicious meals to food insecure individuals. To date, the initiative has purchased over 12 million meals, totaling over $135 million. Congress members drew on this two-pronged model for addressing food system problems during crises to create the FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act in partnership with José Andrés and World Central Kitchen. First introduced in May of 2020, FEED was reintroduced in  January 2021, and signed into law through an executive order by President Biden on February 2nd, 2021. State and local governments are now able to use FEMA funds to purchase meals from restaurants and provide them to communities in need. 

Background: Born in Asturias, Spain, José Andrés began his career in the restaurant industry after attending the Escola de Restauració i Hostalatge in Barcelona, Spain. After serving as a chef in the Spanish Navy and apprenticing at world renown restaurant elBulli under Ferran Adrià, he moved to New York in 1991. In 1993, at just 23, he joined Rob Wilder and Roberto Álvarez in opening Jaleo, one of the first critically acclaimed, commercially successful Spanish tapas restaurants in the U.S. In the years since, Andrés founded ThinkFoodGroup restaurant group and has opened more than thirty widely successful restaurants across the country and beyond, establishing an eclectic array of restaurants with cuisines ranging from traditional tapas to food truck fare. Two of his restaurants, vegetable-centric Beefsteak and the tasting menu-focused minibar, have received two Michelin stars. Andrés has also made a name for himself through his humanitarian work, launching World Central Kitchen in 2010 to support communities across the globe devastated by disasters. 

Work: Started in 2010, World Central Kitchen (WCK) is a leader in emergency food relief initiatives. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, World Central Kitchen jumped into action to provide support and relief for communities devastated by the disaster. They launched their Clean Cooking program, which works to build or rehabilitate community kitchens in order to provide clean spaces for cooking and food education to local communities. In years since, the organization has grown, creating a variety of new programs and initiatives aimed at building community resilience and supporting communities impacted by disasters and other crises. Their food resilience programs work to promote human and environmental health, provide access to professional culinary training, create jobs and fight food insecurity for communities across the country and globe through three main programs, Clean Cooking, Sink to Stove, École des Chefs, with a new educational program, Chef Relief Training, set to launch soon.  

Awards, Praise and Honors: Chef José Andrés was named Times Magazine’s “Most Influential People” in 2012 and 2018, along with “Outstanding Chef” and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation. He has been awarded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Chair’s Medallion Award, the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the 2015 National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama in 2015. 

Location: Washington, DC

Website: World Central Kitchen Website, José Andrés Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram 

Resources and References: 

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