Chef José Andrés on How a Crisis Brings Out The Best in Humanity

José Andrés

The World Central Kitchen founder steps up to help — again

Chef José Andrés has garnered a lot of attention for his efforts to combat hunger during the coronavirus pandemic. In an Instagram Live on Wednesday, he told me about his latest initiatives to mobilize his charity, World Central Kitchen, to help people — including health care workers and the newly unemployed — get the nutrition they need.

Katie Couric: How many people have you organized —and how many people have you helped?

José Andrés: Right now we are doing roughly around 125,000 meals a day. We’ve already done hundreds of thousands of meals. We’re about to be reaching a million by the end this week, and the number we have is going to be increasing. This is a very different emergency — this is not like a hurricane that everybody loses everything and tomorrow everybody’s hungry. This is going slowly; restaurants are closing; people are unemployed.

This simple things, like feeding people, become more complicated. World Central Kitchen — we’re here in more than already 22 cities partnering every day with more and more people to be ready in case this pandemic keeps growing and goes longer to make sure that we are able. It’s almost like if we were firefighters, except instead of going to stop a fire, we go to make sure that hunger and lack of food will not be the problem, but actually that’s what will be the solution.

José, the restaurant industry has been devastated by this because so many restaurants have been closed. You are actively working with these restaurants and restaurant workers to solve that problem as well, correct?

I was one of the first restaurants that began separating tables, making sure that people were keeping distance to protect my teams, to protect our guests, to start showing the way… It’s amazing how the world had changed in the last three, four weeks.

Obviously, I began changing my restaurants to community kitchens…What that means is that we get food for free to anybody that cannot pay. It’s not menu anymore; it’s only the place of the day. Today, we did more than 100 meals probably in this location alone. And the vast majority, if not all the meals have been for the local homeless.

How can we support local restaurants? How can we support those workers who are finding themselves out of work?

People can do a lot of things. A lot of restaurant companies, they’re doing funds. If you have a favorite restaurant or a favorite restaurant group and they have a fund and you can afford it — support that fund. Some restaurants are offering gift cards. So you buy the gift card, you support the restaurant, you make sure that the restaurant is taking care of their people and this is a win-win for everybody.

Are you taking care of your own health? Because you and I are a bit older, and so we have to be particularly careful.

Listen, I’m 50. I was asthmatic when I was young. Nobody’s getting close to me. I only go alone in my car. I have all the protective gear you can imagine… I have an area where I disinfect myself up and down. I put all the clothes into a basket to make sure there’s no contamination. I take a shower very quickly and I try to make sure that I will not be the cause to bring in the virus to my home. So I take it very seriously.

Your work is so moving — and you’re so moving. How can we support local restaurant workers, and also can we support your work?

Listen, follow us at World Central Kitchen. There you’re going to see what we do, but also we are trying to have a map where we showcase what other people are doing. You’re going to find what we do, what we do with partners and what other people are doing at school systems to maintain the school lunches to feed children, especially low-income areas. What I see is that the best of America showing up in these moments of disrepair. That’s what I love about this moment, unfortunately. The best of us is going to shine. The best of America is going to show up and we are going to be okay.

Food is going to be available, but what our organization is doing is making sure that we prepare for the worst, so we can hope for the best and go back to our normal lives like nothing happened. You know the difference, Katie, is that right now the world is changing. Now this delivery pizza person that sometimes we don’t even look into their eyes, all of the sudden that person is risking his life to provide food to many Americans. That woman that is working as a cashier in your supermarket is taking care of 200 people a day, making sure that every family has food at home. We should be thankful because she is risking her life to provide food to many American families.

All of the sudden those farmers, some of them undocumented, are working in the fields as we speak to make sure that the America will keep having food even in this moment. It is risky to be out right now. Obviously our nurses and doctors, but everybody that is doing things right now, to me, is showing you the power of America. We the people, shining high, where everybody is important.

Well, you’re so inspiring to me. I’m getting kind of choked up listening to you talk about the best of us, because I think it’s high time we appreciate each other’s humanity.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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