Chef José Andrés on How Food Helps People Rebuild

The celebrity chef and humanitarian talks about the role of food in recovering from a disaster and why building local capacity is so important.

José Andrés is one of America’s most famous celebrity chefs, but he does more than appear on the Food Network and morning shows (and spar with President Trump). He works to alleviate the toll of disasters such as Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last year, and the more recent storms Florence and Michael. In his book We Fed an Island (co-authored by Richard Wolffe), Andrés recounts how he and hundreds of volunteers made home-cooked meals for Puerto Ricans after Maria struck.

Andrés’s nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, served more than 3 million meals on the island. As the New York Times noted in October 2017, “No other single agency—not the Red Cross, the Salvation Army nor any government entity—has fed more people freshly cooked food since the hurricane, or done it in such a nurturing way.” In February, Andrés was named Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation.

I corresponded with Andrés via email and asked him about the relationship between food and place, his “recipe” for building better recoveries after disasters, his start in Spain, and his move to D.C. (a city that he, more than anyone else, put on the culinary map). Our conversation has been lightly edited.

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