More than a decade ago I came across an article (in one of those flight magazines) about a chef from Spain, an upcoming food entrepreneur who immigrated to the US known for his introduction of Spanish cuisine, tapas (shared small plates) and the art of molecular gastronomy. Besides noting Chef José Andrés’ many accomplishments, what mostly stuck in my head when reading this article, was his immediate commitment to volunteering at a Washington DC soup kitchen upon his arrival. Over the next 12+ years, with a growing portfolio of 30 enterprises, we get to experience in this newly Emmy nominated documentary how one person can make such an enormous difference. How a simple concept of ” we feed people” can create entirely new systems to combat what continues to be our indifference to climate change. Kudos to Ron Howard and National Geographic for undertaking the filming of how movements are created by people when governments and institutions don’t quite “cut the mustard”.
Who is Chef Jose Andres?
Besides being an internationally known chef, a world traveler, an entrepreneur, a husband and father to three daughters, Jose Andres is mostly revered as a humanitarian. He has received countless awards (way too many to mention) for the impact he’s made feeding people when in crisis. He is a larger-than-life character with an abundance of personality, loud and charismatic, with an intense drive. But before we get into what the film is about, it’s important to understand the business of Jose Andres, a brand so uniquely different to what other celebrity chefs have done. He is not as rich as they are ($50MM compared to many of his colleagues that make over $200MM) but his brand and impact will outlast all of them.
Jose’s brand is closely tied to introducing Spanish cuisine and the concept of tapas popularized in the US. Over the decade he has become a known “Avant-Garde foodie” creating all kinds of culinary experiences and food enterprises collaborating and experimenting with other chefs ranging from cooking shows, cookbooks, cafes, oyster bars, Michelin-starred restaurants, and more recently the Mercado Little Spain in New York City. Little Spain is a food service mall combining everything found in a farmer’s market with plenty of dining choices and cocktail bars with a Spanish flair. Going there makes you want to book a trip to Spain. However, what makes him unique and different is another passion within him… feeding people in crisis and using food as an agent of change, and that is what this documentary is all about.
World Central Kitchen …. We Feed People
This 90-minute documentary touches on a wide range of issues, including the people that run the World Central Kitchen (WCK) and its founder Jose Andres. It starts with one disaster after another, from the storms in North Carolina to the earthquake in Haiti, the destruction of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria, the volcano eruption in Guatemala, the wildfires in California and Australia and so many other disasters. It also unfolds the pandemic crisis in major US cities where people could not access food or feed their families and, at the same time, thousands of restaurants had to close their doors.
Through every one of these disasters, you see José with his army of volunteers jumping into action, starting with nothing, creating temporary kitchens to feed masses of people who have lost everything and are just hungry. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking to see this documented without actors… the actual suffering of real people thankful for a meal. The documentary does not hold back… you get to see the destruction and the impact of an angry planet. You see how, in the very beginning, José quickly learns from his mistakes and begins to build ownership within these devastated communities capable of taking care of their own if given a little help.
Another side of this story is the incompetence of the US government as documented in Puerto Rico. Help from either FEMA or the Red Cross was problematic and inefficient. At times, you see this big blustering angry man shouting and pushing as hard as he can to cut through the red tape at the same time hugging people, joking with his workers and lovingly feeding children.
Over time with each disaster, WCK gets more sophisticated about how to not just feed people but to create systems engaging both local government and businesses, allowing for people to feed and take care of themselves. Their goal is to be nimble and respond quickly to yearly disasters using food as an agent of change.
There is so much more to this documentary about Jose’s vision, his passion, family life and those that follow him. What is not in the film is Jose’s own generosity, where he has donated in the last 10 years, 7 MM to soup kitchens around the world. Through World Central Kitchen he has set up the WCK Climate Disaster Fund, a $1 billion commitment over the next decade to support communities impacted by extreme weather events caused by the climate crisis. His vison is so much larger than just feeding people, although it starts with that simple mantra… we feed people.
If you’re inspired by what WCK does, I encourage you to learn more about who they are and how you may help. Also subscribe to Chef Andres’ newsletter on Substack ….Longer Tables with José Andrés.
Click here to learn more about WCK and to donate. The documentary can be seen on Hulu, Disney+, DirectTV, FuboTV, and Spectrum on demand. Go watch the film!
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