The story of World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit serving millions of meals to Puerto Rico.
José Andrés’s nonprofit aims to change the world “through the eyes of a chef”.
Over the past month, chef José Andrés has become the face of Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts. The Washington, D.C.-based chef is rightfully hailed as a hero for feeding Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. But, of course, he isn’t doing it all alone. He’s there with World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit he founded in 2010 that aims to change the world “through the eyes of a chef.”
In Puerto Rico, it’s worked. Since arriving to the devastated island in September, World Central Kitchen served more than 2.3 million meals and fed more people than any other organisation on the ground, with the help of dozens of chefs and hundreds of other volunteers. But disaster relief is actually new for World Central Kitchen, and prior to this year the nonprofit focused on its mission to create smart solutions to hunger and poverty through other initiatives.
Here’s the backstory on the nonprofit that almost single-handedly fed Puerto Rico.
The Origin Story
Andrés was inspired to found World Central Kitchen in 2010. After a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti that year, the chef traveled to the country to work with other nonprofit organizations to install clean cookstoves in the region. In 2011, he joined the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a UN foundation launched in 2010 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as culinary ambassador. In an announcement of his new role he said that he “went to Haiti to assist in humanitarian relief efforts, and saw that the grinding poverty they live with day-to-day had been exacerbated by dirty cooking conditions in overcrowded and unsafe tent cities.” While in Haiti, he also fell in love with country and, naturally, wanted to do more.
At the time, Andrés was chairman of the hunger-fighting nonprofit DC Central Kitchen and on the boards at some other NGOs, but he didn’t see what he was looking for in the international development world — essentially, “an organization that really focused on empowerment and not just feeding,” according to current World Central Kitchen executive director Brian MacNair. Andrés approached DC Central Kitchen with his idea for a new nonprofit. “He said, ‘Hey, I want to start my own organization called World Central Kitchen, tipping my hat to DC Central Kitchen. It’s an empowerment organization,’” MacNair says. “I didn’t think he’d do it.”
After it became clear that Andrés was in fact serious about creating an international empowerment nonprofit, MacNair came on in 2012. He helped streamline World Central Kitchen’s mission to focus on four distinct areas: education, health, jobs, and social enterprise. But unlike other organizations that offer global aid, World Central Kitchen would answer these needs with chefs. “There’s a lot of chefs that are doing good work, but an organization on the ground, kind of like a chefs’ network, didn’t exist and still doesn’t,” MacNair says.
How It Works
In 2013, World Central Kitchen established its “chef network,” which now includes 140 professional chefs. The vision was for a kind of “chefs without borders” program where chefs would enact positive change, globally, using knowledge and resources related to their professions.
The majority of the organization’s work directly addresses either education, health, job creation, or social enterprise all over the world. It builds working kitchens in public schools to ensure children are eating in school, thus encouraging them to go. The organization promotes health by teaching food safety and installing clean cookstoves. And to create jobs, World Central Kitchen establishes culinary schools, which also boost the hospitality industry and stimulate the economy in the areas where it is active — starting with Haiti.
World Central Kitchen in Haiti
World Central Kitchen started with Haiti, where most of the nonprofit’s activity still takes place today. There are currently five active, ongoing initiatives in the country, according to MacNair, including a culinary school in Port-au-Prince, a bakery and restaurant in Croix-des-Bouquets that generate revenue for an orphanage, and “Haiti Breathes,” a campaign to convert Haiti’s school kitchens from using solid fuels to liquid petroleum gas to promote cleaner air.
In 2016, World Central Kitchen converted 50 school kitchens to propane stoves as part of Haiti Breathes and set out to build 40 new school kitchens by 2019, according to its annual report.
The organization also engaged in social enterprise initiatives. For example, in Jacmel, it invested in a fish processing plant to increase the salaries of the families that work there.
World Central Kitchen Across the Globe
In addition to Haiti, World Central Kitchen has operated in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Zambia, Peru, Cuba, Uganda, Cambodia, and elsewhere. According to MacNair, the group responds to requests from nonprofits and government organizations to build school kitchens and conduct sanitation training, but it also supports smaller projects in line with its four goals on a case-by-case basis.
World Central Kitchen helps a group of women in the Dominican Republic market the honey that they harvest. In Nicaragua, it invested in a coffee roasting facility and works with fellow empowerment organization Fabretto to renovate school kitchens.
Last year, when Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, killing more than 900 people, World Central Kitchen was on the ground and distributed 15,000 meals from a mobile kitchen. This marked the beginning of the organization’s disaster relief efforts.
This past August, Andrés flew to Houston to feed people after Hurricane Harvey flooded the city. There, World Central Kitchen mobilized food donations and activated its network of chefs to feed people in need of support. But, it wasn’t until Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico that disaster relief became the fifth part of World Central Kitchen’s official mission.
As with Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Andrés flew to Puerto Rico days after Hurricane Maria made landfall. Andrés and his network of chefs, which he acknowledged on Twitter with #ChefsForPuertoRico, established kitchens across the island, and the visibility of these efforts allowed World Central Kitchen to secure donations and private funding, crucial to feeding people left without food, clean water, and electricity. Although World Central Kitchen fulfilled a FEMA contract in Puerto Rico, it’s this private funding that will allow the group to feed people through Thanksgiving.
“Puerto Rico just took us by storm,” MacNair says. “We grew 500 percent as an organisation overnight.” World Central Kitchen is currently in the process of hiring staff to focus solely on disaster relief “because, clearly, we are chef relief now. We are disaster relief now,” MacNair adds.
This new focus on disaster relief means that there will be more opportunities for World Central Kitchen’s 140 chef volunteers to help out on the ground. Between 20 and 30 chefs from the network flew to Puerto Rico, according to MacNair, and he’s already thinking about how World Central Kitchen can be effective for the next natural disaster: “We’re packaging up exactly what we learned from Puerto Rico, and we will staff accordingly and be ready for the next hurricane season.”
Meanwhile, Andrés continues his on-the-ground work as the face of the organization. He embodies its mission to the core, proving that chefs can offer serious solutions to real world problems.
The above article by Monica Burton first published on eater.com in Nov, 2017.