Immigrant Chef José Andrés Has Served Americans 20 Million Free Meals

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World Central Kitchen Distributes Meals In Baltimore Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Chef Jose Andres and his charity World Central Kitchen distributes meals Baltimore residents ... [+] affected by the coronavirus pandemic on May 2, 2020. (Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images)

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José Andrés immigrated to the United States and became one of the best-known chefs in America. He is a public figure and entrepreneur. After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, he proved to be the most hands-on philanthropist in America. During the Covid-19 crisis he is once again helping Americans.

The story of José Andrés begins in Spain, where he was born. At 21, he worked in a restaurant near Barcelona when his boss, who later became a good friend, fired him. “So there I am in the middle of Spain, it’s raining, and I'm out of a job at a place I thought I would spend my entire career,” wrote Andrés in 2011. “Within a week, I moved to New York to try something different. I had never thought about trying to be a chef in America, but I thought now was the right time, and I didn't have any other choices. That was 20 years ago, and moving to the United States really was destined for me. America gave me the opportunity to open successful restaurants, start a TV show and write books.”

Given the coronavirus pandemic, some people may forget the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria and the weak federal government response to helping people in Puerto Rico, who under U.S. law are American citizens. Andrés mobilized a team of volunteers and led a remarkable effort on the island.

“Chef José Andrés arrived in Puerto Rico four days after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island,” as described in the book We Fed an Island. “The economy was destroyed and for most people there was no clean water, no food, no power, no gas, and no way to communicate with the outside world. Andrés addressed the humanitarian crisis the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. From serving sancocho with his friend José Enrique at Enrique’s ravaged restaurant in San Juan to eventually cooking 100,000 meals a day at more than a dozen kitchens across the island, Andrés and his team fed hundreds of thousands of people, including with massive paellas made to serve thousands of people alone.”

Heroes run toward danger rather than away from it. That was the case when the most visible sign of Covid-19 appeared just off the coast of California in March 2020. On March 7, Donald Trump said he did not want 21 infected passengers to be taken off the Grand Princess cruise ship for medical purposes because “I like the numbers being where they are. I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn't our fault.”

Five days later, José Andrés boarded a flight to San Francisco. “At the Port of Oakland, where the Grand Princess finally docked, Andrés’ team made its own statement,” reported Sean Gregory of Time magazine. “Setting up a tent at the side of the ship, it forklifted fresh meals not only for the quarantined passengers but also for the crew.”

People have suffered across the country, but Andrés has done much to alleviate that suffering. “Andrés is a lesson of leadership in crisis. In a catastrophe in which the response of the U.S. government has been slow, muddled and unsure, his kitchen models the behavior – nimble, confident, proactive – the general public needs in a crisis (and, so far, has provided it more reliably than the federal government),” writes Gregory.

Through his charity, World Central Kitchen, Jose Andrés and his team have crossed America. By April, the organization became active in 22 cities.

When the crisis started, World Central Kitchen “worked with partners to coordinate delivery, via 160 distribution points, of more than 150,000 safe, packaged fresh meals for families in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Little Rock, Ark.; Oakland; New Orleans; Los Angeles; Miami; Boston; and Madrid. Across the country, the organization’s ‘Chefs for America’ online map pinpoints 346 restaurants and 567 school districts providing meals,” reported Time. In late March, Andrés even distributed “more than 13,000 N95 respirator masks . . .  to healthcare workers [in Washington, D.C.] fighting Covid-19 on the front lines.”

-         In Chicago, World Central Kitchen worked with Chef Lamar Moore and the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group to provide meals to healthcare workers and to help restaurant workers furloughed during the crisis with support and an opportunity to work.

-         In Washington, D.C., World Central Kitchen worked with the Washington Nationals “to provide thousands of free meals each day to Washington, D.C. residents who may have difficulty accessing food during the coronavirus crisis.” The Nationals allowed Andrés to “utilize the stadium’s enormous kitchens.”

-         In Austin, Texas, the organization works with the charity Frontline Foods to deliver at least 200 packaged meals daily.

-         In San Francisco, California, Frontline Foods has been providing meals to hospital staff and others affected by Covid-19.

-         By July, World Central Kitchen had helped serve over 20 million fresh meals around the country.

“When we hear about a tragedy, we all kind of get stuck on ‘What’s the best to way to help?’” said Hamilton playwright and producer Lin-Manuel Miranda. “He just hurries his ass over and gets down there.”

In 2008, José Andrés hosted a TV show on PBS, Made in Spain, and he has published several books on cooking. He served as executive producer of a show on MSNBC called What’s Eating America, which focuses on the “stories of people working to raise, process, and harvest what we eat.” He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2013.

He is also an entrepreneur. There are no green cards or startup visas in America awarded for starting a successful business. That means entrepreneurs usually must receive permanent residence as a refugee or family or employment-based immigrant before starting a successful company.

The United Kingdom added a new visa to compete with American venture capital firms, according to a recent National Foundation for American Policy report. Australia and New Zealand have startup visas and their governments have experimented with ways to attract more foreign-born entrepreneurs. Canada has both a federal startup program and one administered by the province of Quebec.

In Washington, D.C., Andrés started a restaurant specializing in Spanish cuisine. It was one of several restaurants he has established. Today, José Andrés is CEO, co-founder and executive chairman of ThinkFoodGroup, which has in its portfolio 29 restaurants in 9 cities.

Americans are fortunate that at the age of 21 Andrés lost his job in Barcelona. During the Covid-19 crisis, José Andrés has fed people across the United States, a mission he began after stepping off a plane from Spain nearly 30 years ago as an immigrant to America.

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