Chef; founder, World Central Kitchen
If guardian angels walk among us, those marching in the crusade alongside the indomitable José Andrés must believe their leader has wings. The renowned Washington, D.C.-based Spanish chef became a culinary mobilizer of feeding the hungry when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. After receiving the Julia Child Award last fall at the Smithsonian, Andrés said there’s nothing as simple and as purely good as the act of feeding someone. He’s never wavered from that singular mission.
During the health crisis, Andrés developed a nationwide Chefs for America response through the auspices of his World Central Kitchen. And here’s a staggering notion: The initiative’s volunteers began feeding the most vulnerable—the elderly, schoolchildren and marginalized communities—literally overnight. Andrés is not a man orchestrating his hunger-relief efforts and cheering from the sidelines. Follow his Twitter feed (@chefjoseandres) and you quickly see from countless videos that he’s in the culinary trenches, preparing large- scale meals and handing plates to strangers. He even pledged to doctors and nurses that, when the pandemic ends, they’ll pay nothing for meals at his restaurants for the rest of the year. At the height of the crisis, Andrés said to a nation worrying about its next meal, “I’m next to you, feeling your pain. You will not be alone. Life will not be easy, but we will overcome every obstacle together.”
From Oakland to Little Rock to New Orleans, his relief initiatives nationwide are as unique as the communities they serve. In the nation’s capital, teams prepare thousands of meals for senior centers. The chef’s teams in Southern California—from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach—hand out 20,000 meals per day to children who aren’t receiving food because of closed schools. And in hard-hit New York City, Andrés’ army of volunteers provide grab-and-go meals in the Bronx, Queens and Harlem, where they have partnered with chef Marcus Samuelsson and his Red Rooster restaurant.
More than anything, Andrés understands the human condition. In early April, he said, “I don’t see color, religion, faith, sex or status. I only see people and their hearts, hopes, dreams and needs. Right now, I’m trying to provide for those needs. I’m on your side. I’m on the side of ‘We the People’— that means all of us.”
A spotlight from our “Heroes of Hope” feature in The Hope Issue