Picture this: A chef wielding a supersized spatula stirring paella in pans the size of kiddie pools—it’s enough to feed 20,000 people. Sound crazy?
That’s exactly what’s happening in Puerto Rico, and it’s all thanks to chef José Andrés.
Chef to the Rescue
The celebrity chef—known for appearances on Iron Chef America, Top Chef and other cooking shows—quickly jumped into action after seeing the devastation Hurricane Maria unleashed on Puerto Rico on September 20. Not only did the Category 4 storm wipe out the island’s power grid and communications system, but it decimated nearly 80 percent of its agriculture industry. More than two weeks later, much of the population was still without basic necessities.
Just five days after the storm, Andrés engaged his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, and flew to San Juan to start rallying volunteers, gathering donations and feeding the people who needed it most. He teamed up with Puerto Rican chef Jose Enrique and his restaurant in Santruce to start serving up some delicious food. On the menu? In addition to paella, the team served shepherd’s pie, sandwiches, pastelón (a layered casserole with beef and fried plantains) and sancocho (a hearty beef stew).
The Idea Grows
One of the first delivery stops was to the staffers at area hospitals who are working around the clock to provide care. Andrés and team have delivered meals to centers for the elderly, families and first responders, and they’ve even mobilized a fleet of food trucks to help distribute. (Hungry for food truck food? Find recipe copycats here.)
Three days later, Andrés opened a second kitchen to expand operations, and a week after that, moved the main kitchen to the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, a large indoor entertainment venue (definitely not your typical event fare!). He and his volunteers even expanded meal prep and delivery to areas outside San Juan, including Cataño and Ponce, and Andrés met with the Puerto Rican secretary of education to discuss how to use the island’s schools to provide hot meals.
Andrés has been posting daily updates on his Twitter account, detailing how many meals the team is preparing, donations received, and even problems they encounter, like running out of bread and cheese. Chefs and volunteers are using the hashtag #ChefsForPuertoRico to spread the word.
Within the first week, the chef and his team served 50,000 meals, but they are just getting started. Right now, their goal is to serve 50,000 meals daily. With extra volunteers and chefs from the World Central Kitchen’s chef network, upgraded kitchen operations, and help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, Andrés is making every effort to feed as many people as he can.
“We have big plans because people have big needs,” the chef said.
This isn’t the first time Andrés and World Central Kitchen have helped in a crisis. The chef and owner of 26 restaurants provided assistance to Houston after Hurricane Harvey and Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. Through its global network of chefs, World Central Kitchen offers unique solutions to hunger and poverty.
An award-winning chef with a passion for humanitarian efforts? We say, well done.