Following the devastating earthquakes in Haiti in 2010, chef José Andrés founded World Central Kitchen, which operated on a radical notion: The organization’s team of chefs would feed as many hungry people as possible for free, with no wish for compensation, reward, or fame. Since then, Andrés and World Central Kitchen have set up mobile kitchens in Puerto Rico and flown to Houston in the aftermath of mass flooding to feed pasta and red sauce to the displaced from ingredients he bought at Target. His mantra? “If I can feed one person, I’m happy.” Now, Andrés is once again at the frontlines of a crisis, this time setting up community kitchens to feed vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andrés’ Washington, DC, restaurants are closed for now to encourage social distancing (his employees will continue to be paid for the next two weeks) but that doesn’t mean the chef is taking a vacation. Instead, he’s transforming some of the closed kitchens of his restaurants, including Jaleo and Oyamel, into what he called community kitchens. In a video message, he said that he and his team would prepare takeaway meals for people who need a quick meal.
Andrés emphasized that he’s not simply opening new, smaller restaurants where anyone can drop by “for enjoyment,” but that his community kitchens are specifically intended to serve people who need an emergency meal.
Andrés also encouraged other chefs to close their restaurants and bars in order to keep people safe, though the decision might be “painful.” So far, restaurants in California, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Washington, and Texas have made the tough decision to shutter for at least two weeks to stop the spread of the virus. While that might be the best choice for public health, the impact on small businesses and the restaurant industry as a whole could be devastating.
For now, Andrés is choosing to choose safety over profit, adding that right now, “loving each other means staying away from each other.”