In addition to overseeing a rapidly growing restaurant empire, José Andrés is a leading advocate for chefs interested in working to alleviate hunger and malnutrition around the world. “I know that there are plenty of people who think that chefs should just stay in the kitchen,” Andrés says. “But 50 years from now, I don’t want to look back and think that we, as a profession, could have done more to end hunger. We can’t afford not to take action.”
Andrés first took action 20 years ago, when he began working with DC Central Kitchen, a Washington, D.C.–based organization that provides some 5,000 meals a day to low-income citizens, as well as culinary job training for the underemployed. When an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, his experience with the organization inspired him to do something internationally. “After the earthquake, I felt like I had to do more,” Andrés recalls. “As a chef, I feed the few, but I want to feed the many.” Together with his wife, Patricia Fernández, he created World Central Kitchen to accomplish this ambitious aim.
The organization is designed, he says, to eradicate global hunger by empowering local communities. World Central Kitchen, in other words, does not merely distribute provisions; the organization also teaches people how to grow and prepare food, providing the infrastructure necessary for individuals and populations to support themselves in the long term. “This isn’t about feeling pity,” says Andrés, who has made several trips to Haiti to oversee the group’s work there. “It’s about respect, and offering a little push in the back.”
In Haiti, that push has taken various forms: a canteen with a chicken farm attached; a bakery that supplies goods to orphanages; and solar-powered cookstoves, which the organization distributed to villages not only to protect women from the unhealthy fumes produced by traditional cooking methods, but also to liberate girls from their usual task of collecting firewood so that they have time to attend school.
Founded in 2010, World Central Kitchen also has plans to expand its work into other parts of the world. “Food is the most important source of fuel on the planet,” Andrés says. “We need to make sure it’s available to everyone—and in a way that enables everyone to live a full life.”