A Culinary Game Changer

November 22nd, 2013 by Sara Mohazzebi

Renowned chef José Andrés applies his love of cooking to the cause of eradicating world hunger.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

In 2010, I went to South Africa during the World Cup as a journalism mentor for a youth activist and human rights conference. Every day, I got to work and learn from amazing activists from over 30 countries who were determined to reduce sexual violence in their communities and protect women’s rights. On the last night of my trip, crammed into a bar with my colleagues and enjoying the celebratory energy of the World Cup, I met a Spanish man named Diego from Washington, D.C. I told him that for a brief stint I had lived in the U.S. capital and my favorite restaurant was the Mediterranean tapas spot Zaytinya. “Then you must meet my great friend José, because he’s the owner and the chef,” Diego said.

Within a few seconds, I met José, whose passion for soccer and food was made known just as quickly as our introduction. I left that bar knowing three things about chef José Andrés: he was clearly a fan of his beloved Spanish soccer team, he was determined to end world hunger through his humanitarian organization The World Central Kitchen, and his first destination in alleviating hunger and food insecurity was Haiti.

For three years, I followed the World Central Kitchen’s projects and the proof was there; by using innovation and smarts, this chef and activist was behind sustainable projects that included building life-changing culinary educations and smart kitchens, cooking on clean cookstoves, creating jobs, and fortifying local businesses in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Zambia.  

What I found unforgettable about José from our initial meeting and through learning about his work with WCK is that this is a man who genuinely believes that we are all part of a global community responsible for improving one another’s lives. He actively walks the walk of being a difference-maker, and his motto of “Why feed a few when we can feed many?” is a question that his humanitarian organization answers each day on a local and international scale. With around 870 million hungry people globally, 1.5 million people dying from hunger each year, and around 20,874 people dying every day from hunger related causes, this is the worst hunger crisis being faced in the past 50 years due to recent recessions and natural disasters. And it is one that the James Beard Award-winning chef with 10 major restaurants and his company the Think Food Group is adamant that we can change for the better. Just three years after his first trip to Haiti and gearing up for the WCK’s most recent project, the Elie Du Bois Culinary School, I had the chance to reconnect with José about the WCK and it’s latest and future endeavors. In 2013, I feel exactly the same away I did on that late South African night: José Andrés isn’t just a chef; he’s a culinary warrior for social good.

The World Central Kitchen is now embarking on the Elie Du Bois culinary school in Haiti that will empower women and lead to hospitality jobs. As you're now designing the curriculum, what goes into putting that together?

World Central Kitchen is focused on smart solutions, so the culinary school for girls must embrace a curriculum that is smart. Clearly, we are empowering young girls, which is important to the family core and self esteem of women, but at the same time, we need to be sure that these students are ready for jobs. The curriculum will combine traditional culinary skills, kitchen hygiene, food safety, life skills, professionalism and strong prep skills that are needed for immediate employment. Let’s not forget that we will incorporate a café that will allow the school to earn revenue while giving the girls ‘front-of-house’ skills for service jobs.

It's been three years since you first went to Haiti and created WCK. What has been the biggest takeaway you have gotten from this experience?

The most important piece to remember is that people want to be empowered. People that are suffering in any country, they do not just want a handout. They want respect and they want an opportunity to better their lives - through education and hard work.  World Central Kitchen is a network of chefs that are ready to do “service” around the world. And through training and smart investment, we are going to provide these opportunities and ultimately empower communities and strengthen economies.

What do you wish people knew about hunger and the fight to eradicate hunger?

Hunger is not just about food. It is about infrastructure, agriculture, education and uplifting communities so that they do not get caught in the cycle of poverty.

Where do you see WCK five years from now? 

Five years from now, World Central Kitchen will be recognized as a leader in the international development world and will be focusing on smart kitchens, clean cooking, training and support of the overall food chain. WCK will be in more than 10 countries, and investors and followers will see how we have changed lives, communities and countries.

For more on the World Central Kitchen and the Elie Duboise Culinary School, go to http://new.worldcentralkitchen.org/donate. World Central Kitchen is providing a life changing education to young women in Haiti at the Elie du Bois Culinary School For Girls. By contributing the crucial tools these women need to be successful, you can actively help them increase their earning power by 500 percent and lift their families out of poverty.

Sara Mohazzebi is a journalist and content strategist covering arts, culture, innovation, and social change. Her work has been published in a variety of popular outlets including Esquire, Teen Vogue, and Emirates Woman magazine.