Meet José Andrés, chef at the NGO World Central Kitchen – 04/02/2024 – Food

Meet José Andrés, chef at the NGO World Central Kitchen – 04/02/2024 – Food


An audience of foodies waits, in an auditorium overlooking the blue Caribbean Sea, for Spanish chef José Andrés, 54, to enter for a class on paellas. After the organization said that the cook would no longer participate, he made a flashy entrance wearing a bathrobe and smoking a cigar.

“When things go wrong in a recipe, what do you do?”, he asks amid applause from the audience, laughter and jokes in English and Spanish. “Change the name of the recipe”, he responds to the approximately 150 people present.

A celebrity even among multi-starred chefs, José, as his colleagues call him, heads a group with more than 30 locations in the United States, has just published another book (“Zaytinya”) and produces his own podcast.

He has also gained global recognition for his work with WCK (World Central Kitchen), an NGO that lost seven of its members in an Israeli air strike in the center of the Gaza Strip this Tuesday (2). The organization provides meals in conflict areas and in situations of humanitarian and climate crises in different countries around the world — from Ukraine to Puerto Rico.

When it comes to the scarcity of food in these regions, however, all the good humor and charisma that hypnotizes the public seem to immediately cease. “By 2024, there being hunger in the world is a real failure of the UN. (…) I don’t think they do enough and I think that if we gave the UN a blank check tomorrow they wouldn’t know how to eradicate hunger”, he says, in rare interview.

The cook talked to the Sheet in mid-January, while participating in the 2024 edition of the Cayman Cookout festival, a gastronomic event that has been taking place for 15 years at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, Grand Cayman, bringing together a constellation of chefs.

“I don’t think we have to blame anyone,” he continues. “But the system is bound to go wrong. We send crumbs from rich countries to poor countries.”

For the Spanish chef, the new solutions to the problem involve supporting small farmers who could then subsist and sell their surpluses, creating a local economy even in poor regions.

José also defends the granting of government incentives so that these farmers are more productive. According to him, of the billions given to food production in the world, little reaches small farmers. “This money usually ends up in the hands of big companies, which have big profits. I have a big company too. I have nothing against big companies”, he jokes.

“What can’t happen is that big companies that have money and ways to hire lobbyists influence food policies in the US, Brazil and around the world. I’m a big advocate that it’s ok to have subsidies for small businesses, which have higher costs high levels of production”, he says.

Last year, José also teamed up with George Washington University to launch the Global Food Institute, an organization that aims to analyze issues related to hunger, global food supply and inequalities.

“One day we’re going to wake up and not have enough food to feed seven billion people,” he says, shortly before being interrupted by chef Kwame Onwuachi — who wanted to ask for a selfie with his colleague. Ahead of Tatiana, Kwame was voted the best in a list of one hundred New York restaurants by The New York Times last year.

A little earlier, José had participated in a conversation open to the public led by another starred chef: Eric Ripert. The Frenchman runs Le Bernardin, the only New York restaurant to maintain four stars, the highest rating from the New York Times, since it opened in the 1980s.

“How can you be here when you know your WCK team is on the field right now?” asks Ripert. In English, but with a strong Spanish accent, José responds that spending time with his family helped him cope.

A friend of Ripert, creator of Cayman Cookout, José participated in the event with his family since the first edition, alongside another friend, chef and presenter Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018). The festival offers exclusive activities for a highly foodie audience willing to pay up to US$5,000 (around R$25,000) for one of them.

According to the New York Times, José has been away from home traveling for more than a hundred days over the past two years to participate in his organization’s frontline operations in places like Turkey after the earthquake and Mexico after a hurricane.

WCK itself was founded by the chef in 2010 after he traveled to Haiti to provide humanitarian aid following an earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people.

There is a story that the chef likes to tell about the occasion: at that moment, he noticed that the beans he prepared were not being consumed by the population. With the help of people affected by the crisis, he understood that grain in the region was consumed crushed and sieved until it formed a kind of paste. He often repeats the story as a way of explaining the organization’s spirit: that of seeking to feed with local ingredients and recipes, whenever possible.

Since then, José Andrés has cultivated relationships with some of the most powerful people in the USA. He even received a $100 million donation from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2021 and established a close relationship with former US President Barack Obama.

Born in 1969 in a coal mining town in Spain’s northern Asturias region, he worked as an apprentice on Ferran Adrià’s star-studded El Bulli near Barcelona before moving to the US in 1991.

In 2014, the Obama administration awarded him a distinction given to naturalized U.S. citizens who performed outstanding tasks called “Outstanding American by Choice.” In 2015, he received the National Humanities Medal.

With Reuters


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