Photo of wooden cooking utensils

José Andrés: Healing communities through food

It’s appropriate, as I’m writing this for a report about communication and media, that the Twitter profile picture of chef and restaurateur José Andrés is a simple image of him holding a phone. Rather than grabbing hold of a tool of the culinary trade, Andrés instead is focused on the medium of his message. He’s focused on using it to rally as many people as he can around the idea that food has the power to go beyond nourishment to heal communities, strengthen economic prosperity and provide tangible hope to people facing the darkest moments of their lives.

He brings that phone from Haiti to India, and from California to Lebanon, as his nonprofit World Central Kitchen deploys to disaster-stricken regions — often faster and with greater scale than traditional relief organizations — to feed victims, first responders and volunteers. With it, he shows firsthand that by mobilizing local restaurants, volunteer chefs, food trucks, businesses, governments and other nonprofits to work together, we can all play a role in feeding our neighbors, especially in times of crisis. He shows how, in his words, “the few can feed the many.” For example, Bloomberg reported in July last year that just one of World Central Kitchen’s COVID-19 response programs in the U.S. alone was serving more than 200,000 meals per day.

In telling his own story to the hosts of the podcast SmartLess, Andrés said he was inspired to act by an episode of inaction—watching the disaster unfold at the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina while at his home. “We have to do better,” he said. “There is no way we are going to leave anybody hungry.”

Since then, he built a global hunger-relief organization, starting first in Haiti in 2010 after a massive earthquake struck the region, then gaining international prominence activating in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. There, his team mobilized more than 19,000 volunteers to build kitchens across the island to address food insecurity through his #ChefsForPuertoRico efforts. To date, World Central Kitchen has served more than 50 million meals to people around the world. Wherever he goes, Andrés has his phone in hand, bringing people to the frontlines to show the critical work in action.

Disaster relief is just part of this work. The organization also leads programs in clean cooking, food safety and culinary education. The ingenuity, creativity and vision that Andrés brings to each of these challenges has given him a continually expanding platform from which to share his story and his belief in the power of food to change the world. In July, Andrés became one of the first recipients of the Courage and Civility Award, a $100 million grant from Jeff Bezos to further the goal of World Central Kitchen.

As his work continues, his phone will be a constant— but it’s getting an upgrade. In October, Variety reported Andrés plans to launch his own media company that will produce content for TV, podcasts, books and other platforms, “with a focus on food- related stories and characters, and the culture of food.”