Human Rights

Local Ingredients Are Key To Chef José Andrés' Disaster Relief Meals

We sit down with chef José Andrés to talk about what food means to people's recovery.

Local Ingredients Are Key To Chef José Andrés' Disaster Relief Meals
World Central Kitchen

Chef José Andrés' natural disaster approach taps into his culinary background. He's already used to using local ingredients, transporting hot meals with food trucks and feeding hundreds of people at a time. But the meals he and his team are cooking here do more than just fill people up.

"I always believe food empowers, gives a sense of community, food gives a sense of purpose. And actually it doesn't only re-energize your body with the calories, but also your soul is highly re-energized by it," Andrés said. 

Andrés has been working to provide food after natural disasters since the Haiti earthquake in 2010 through his organization World Central Kitchen. That work involves connecting with local chefs and keying in on local comfort foods. 

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Andrés said: "The dishes show up on their own. Yes, it needs to be things that you can [make] fast, that have a lot of calories and that can maintain itself hot for the longest period of time. ... We always love to give sandwiches, because sandwiches are a great thing to deliver next to a hot plate of food. It's almost like you're delivering two meals in one. ... Everywhere we go, we adapt. In Indonesia the menus right now is very different than the ones we did in Puerto Rico. In Guatemala, the dishes are different than the ones we did in North Carolina."

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, Andrés rushed to the island. He detailed that experience in his book "We Fed an Island."

"In Puerto Rico, everything happened in a very amazing way. We got one person, Manolo, one of the most amazing chefs I know. He's an expert in paellas and seems he travels with them anywhere he goes around the world. So it was very obvious we'll be using the paellas on the outside with chicken and rice. These are very efficient for emergencies but happens [to be] something Puerto Ricans love," Andrés said. 

With the help of other chefs and volunteers, Andrés was able to provide 3 million meals to people in Puerto Rico. In 2018, he was honored with the James Beard Foundation's Humanitarian of the Year award

Andrés said: "We always ask ourselves, 'Is this really necessary, what we're doing? Are we only doing it because it feels good to feed someone a nice looking plate of food? Is it something that is really essential?'" 

Andrés' materials are, of course, limited in disaster relief settings.

"Is there an ingredient you don't get to use a lot, but you wish you would get to cook with more?" Newsy's Melissa Prax asked. 

"I wish I could cook with flamingo tongues. I wish I could be at the Roman [empire] banquets where they served 20,000 flamingo tongues. I wish I will eat them one day, but the reality is I love flamingos, they need to be protected. ... It's things like these, main ingredients that you wish were not just a part of history."