José Andrés Since Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, he has made it his personal mission, to get into the fray. With the formation of his nonprofit World Central Kitchen, the chef and humanitarian has traveled the world along with his team, supporting the organization’s mission to provide food in response to disasters.

Andrés was in Austin this week for South by Southwest (SXSW) he gave a keynote World Central Kitchen Recently, the organization was on ground in Central EuropeHot meals provided to thousands of refugees around the world by the YMCA. Ukraine impacted by the ongoing warTwo days later, he arrived in Turkey and Syria. two devastating earthquakes Millions of people were forced to flee their homes.

Barcelona-raised chef, immigrated to America at 21 and rose through the ranks of New York City’s kitchens before becoming head chef of Spanish tapas restaurant. Jaleo Washington, D.C. He made the restaurant a culinary destination, and then traveled back to Spain to star in what became one of the country’s most popular cooking shows, and, alongside his ThinkFoodGroup partner, eventually opened more than 30 restaurants. He has received numerous awards for his culinary excellence, including four Michelin Bib Gourmands, a restaurant with two Michelin stars, and a National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama in 2015.

After his SXSW session, Andrés spoke with Eater about his work and the nonprofit’s recently announced cookbook, The World Central Kitchen Cookbook – Feeding Hope, Feeding PeopleThe publication will be available on September 12. It’ll feature recipes from meals served during mission efforts, like Ukrainian borscht and lahmacun flatbread, as well as recipes shared by chefs and celebrities, including Ayesha Curry, Michelle Obama, and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. The author proceeds from the book will go back to World Central Kitchen’s missions.

The cover of The World Central Kitchen Cookbook.
Penguin Random House

Eater, you mentioned that longer tables are needed and not higher walls. What did that mean?

José Andrés: We felt good when America sent a team to Haiti during an earthquake. It was an honor to see the positive response. But when we don’t do good in the right way, it creates more mayhem than not. Haiti has hundreds, if not thousands, of people who do good. local farmers out of business Because of the huge amount of rice coming in from America and other places, local farmers couldn’t sell their produce. We were expected to spend money In Farmers were able to make a living by planting and improving their crops. Many of these farmers left the country due to a lack in jobs and moved to Central America.

We saw it again many years later. what happened in Texas When we had thousands upon thousands of Haitians in a caravan on the border. It all began many years ago. We This is what created the problem. We could focus on building walls, or we could make longer tables. Making sure that our aid did not create more problems, by supporting the local farmers — that would have been the meaning of building longer tables. This is something we can do in our own country. Everybody talks about walls in terms of separating countries, and we don’t realize that we have walls even in our communities.

World Central Kitchen has delivered more than 250,000,000 meals to those in need. It’s been able to do that under wildly different conditions: natural disasters and war zones. What would you attribute this success to?

It is what I love about these missions. Let’s provide food and water to the people until the system comes back. Focus is key. One of the things that happens with very big organizations, the government being the biggest one of all, is there are so many things we need to be working on that there’s no focus. I’ve learned when I go to these emergencies that being focused allows you a certain level of success, because when we all put our best effort into a very specific objective, success is usually within reach.

With each new mission, you’re meeting people during intense times of crisis and providing them with something simple, but necessary: a hot meal. What has your experience changed your perception of food?

I do much more than just cooking. I listen to what is being said and make the best decisions with what is available. What I’ve learned is that when you have plenty of restaurants and people willing to cook, why not do a hot fresh meal instead of an MRE [Meal, Ready to Eat]? It’s not about the fanciness of a fresh meal, it’s that when you decide to cook, you require the entire community to commit, which is very difficult. This is what makes people work together towards a common goal. They are part of the solution. They’re not sitting in their homes waiting for reconstruction to start or their electricity to come back. We’re doing something to make sure that the goal of going back to “normal” is reached quicker and faster. The community can be revived by feeding them. As part of our network we bring hundreds to thousands of people. When people see us, they are motivated to join the cause. When you see communities reactivating, and making decisions on their own, it’s very powerful.

jose andres, sxsw, sxsw 2023, Cat Cardenas eater austin

José Andrés.
Cat Cardenas/Eater Austin

How has the World Central Kitchen changed over the past decade?

As organizations mature, many things change. It’s not the same to be feeding in the middle of a hurricane in the Caribbean as in the middle of a snowstorm in Turkey; it’s not the same to deliver by boat, by helicopter, or by amphibious vehicle. What has remained constant from the beginning was that we make the best food possible with what we have.

You’ve spoken about the power of food as a storytelling device, as a way to share and experience each other’s cultures. How does this influence your work?

In the beginning, people would eat any food. Sometimes, if all we can get a hold of is mac and cheese and hot dogs, that’s what we’ll cook. It will get better each day. People will trust you more if you bring hot meals to work every day. It was chaotic the first day in Syria. You don’t want to bring the military or police at the start. The first days that you’re there are going to be a little bit of chaos, especially because people didn’t have food for days. They’re hungry and they want to feed their families. The chaos decreases when you return on the second day. People are more relaxed and smile on the third day. And if you come back the fourth and the fifth day, they’ll say, “By the way, we also need water,” “This family needs medicine,” or, “These families need baby formula.” All of a sudden, you are building bridges with members of the community who see you are reliable. You’re not just going there and dropping off. You’re there for them. You didn’t come for the photos or because the journalists came. We keep coming back even after the journalists and photographers leave.

You have announced the World Central Kitchen cookbook. What are you hoping people will take away from the World Central Kitchen cookbook?

This book is going to be a great resource for many more books over the years. Not everybody’s a chef, and not everybody’s a cook, but the heart of what we are is cooking with feeling. I think it’s a good way to connect with people, the NGO that provides food in emergencies shares the recipes of the people that made the emergency response possible. I think that’s a great way to connect the people that follow us and our kitchen, with people with boots on the ground.

This interview was edited and condensed to improve clarity.

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