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‘Activist chef’ José Andrés is the subject of a documentary in which he appears in all kinds of tragedy


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It doesn’t even need a “batsignal” for it to appear. From earthquakes to other world-scale environmental disasters, including the recent war in Ukraine, it is enough to complicate the situation that there is Spanish chef José Andrés mobilizing an army to feed people in need.

It has already become a widespread image in the press and social networks: him wearing a utility vest, a cap on his head and some lunchboxes in his hands, with the most devastating scenarios behind him. Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, earthquake in Haiti, flooding in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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Andrés is an acclaimed chef in the USA, where he has lived since 1993, having created a small empire of Spanish cuisine with more than 15 restaurants. But it was his work at the non-governmental organization World Central Kitchen (WCK), created to distribute food to people who were victims of natural disasters, that made him an icon of world cuisine.

Even nominated for the Nobel in 2019 for his humanitarian work, which has served more than 70 million meals around the world, the Spaniard inaugurated the era of activist chefs – the one that succeeds the celebrity chefs, in vogue until the end of the years. 2010.

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More than just showing up, now cooks need to have a cause.

In the new documentary “We Feed People”, made by National Geographic and which has just arrived on the Disney+ streaming service, celebrated director Ron Howard shows how Andrés created the institution.

And how did it take advantage of the fame it gained among TV shows and magazine covers to catapult it worldwide. “He knew how to take advantage of the egomania of celebrity chefs,” says Carlow Sugarman, a former food reporter for the Washington Post.

In the first scenes, the film catches Andrés among the floods in North Carolina drawing up a plan to install seven kitchens and feed the homeless.

A reporter asks your name. He replies, laconic: “Joseph.” She then asks what he is doing there, with maps in his hands and a team around him. The chef’s answer: “I feed people and create systems.”

Andrés founded WCK in 2010 when, while on vacation in the Cayman Islands, he received news of the earthquake that devastated Haiti. “I felt so close and yet so far away. I needed to do something. I went there right away and started organizing groups that could help me feed people in need,” he says in the documentary.

He tried to mobilize governments and institutions and realized the bureaucracy that governs humanitarian aid. He then decided to create his own project to raise funds that could facilitate the efficient distribution of meals. “I’m good at seeing opportunities where people see chaos,” he says.

With experienced cooks in professional kitchens, he created a small team that specializes in disaster logistics: once they arrive at a location, they try to mobilize volunteers and the local population so that meals are made urgently and delivered quickly. “We have learned to execute true war strategies”, he confesses.

But it wasn’t the only lesson he learned in that time. As he cooked a bean stew for victims in Haiti, he noticed that women in the community looked at him skeptically about his recipe.

“I didn’t understand. I was making the best beans in the world, I’m José Andrés”, the chef remembers thinking.

The women then taught him their way of preparing the dish and Andrés claims to have had the most important learning experience there. “You have to respect customs and culture. We make sure that our food matches the tastes of the local people,” he says.

“Chef José Andrés” appears, however, in interviews and in the many broadcasts and posts he makes on social networks to show at all times what he and his team are doing.

“We need to take advantage of our projection more efficiently”, he comments, in one of the scenes. Fame is for mobilizing and creating engagement.

“It’s also the only way to know if he’s okay. We don’t always get in touch, but we go on Twitter and see that he’s safe,” says one of his daughters in the film.

From volcano eruptions to fires, passing through all kinds of tragedies, Andrés mobilizes very quickly to be able to reach the field and put his structure to work. “I was on the first flight that landed in Puerto Rico after the Maria had passed,” he proudly reports.

Now, he struggles to feed the Ukrainian victims of Russia’s invasion of the country, which the documentary didn’t have time to show. “More than food, food can be an agent of change,” he believes. “That’s my calling.”

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