A Chef on the Front Lines of Hunger

How successful chef and restaurateur José Andrés has become a leading force for disaster relief and service in food.

Christina Xenos

CHEF JOSÉ ANDRÉS IS BEST KNOWN for the visionary approach to food he takes in his more than 15 restaurants and hospitality ventures, which span from Washington, D.C., to Dallas, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. But when disaster strikes, he’s not afraid to step out of the kitchen. 

Andrés’s commitment to disaster and hunger relief made headlines most recently after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017. He and his charity, World Central Kitchen, arrived on the island and proceeded to serve more than 3.4 million meals to its residents, utilizing 25 kitchens with the help of over 19,000 volunteers. 

Feeding those in need isn’t new territory for Andrés. He founded WCK in 2010 in the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti. His organization’s main tenet is that food can be an agent of change, and he relies on a dedicated chef network to make that idea real. 

A prime example: WCK aligned with the nonprofit L.A. Kitchen to feed victims of the California wildfires at the end of 2017. This year they’re due to collaborate again with prominent members of the hospitality and celebrity world, including Zooey Deschanel, Ron Finley, and Susan Feniger, for an awareness-raising event at the Los Angeles Times Food Bowl. They will create a dish and showcase how it could be scaled up for thousands of people as part of future disaster relief efforts. 

Andrés’s efforts led to the James Beard Foundation naming him its 2018 Humanitarian of the Year. “José’s work in Puerto Rico and Haiti shows how chefs can use their expertise and unique skills to enact profound change on a global scale,” said Mitchell Davis, the foundation’s executive vice president. Time magazine recognized Andrés as one of the 100 most influential people of 2018, and he’s to be given an honorary degree by Tufts University. As fellow chef Emeril Lagasse wrote of Andrés’ in Time, “His infectious philanthropic spirit reminds all of us that no matter your craft or passion, our most noble calling as human beings is to selflessly foster hope in and chase despair from the lives of others.”