Chef José Andrés, perhaps best known now for his humanitarian work worldwide, joined actor Sean Penn and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a new coronavirus testing site on the Northwest Side on Monday.
World Central Kitchen, the non-profit founded by Andrés, will help provide meals for workers at new testing sites in the Hanson Park and Little Village neighborhoods. The chef created the non-governmental organization in response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He emerged as an outspoken leader during disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The chef, restaurateur, author, television host and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee described himself simply when asked.
“I’m a cook,” said Andrés. “People call you weird names like ‘celebrity bull****’ and all that stuff. I am what I do. I’m a cook.”
Chef Jose Andres (stars and stripes bandana) and his team from World Central Kitchen deliver prepared meals to Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago on Monday, May 18, 2020, to support front line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.(Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)
During a busy day crisscrossing the city, he spoke by phone while visiting Gibsons Italia, a World Central Kitchen partner, en route to Barrio restaurant on the Near North Side, before dropping off meals at Norwegian American Hospital in Humboldt Park.
“We’ve been here over a month helping like we do everywhere else,” said Andrés. “We have more than 15 restaurants in Chicago that have been doing around 100,000 meals per week now. Today we delivered food in Englewood at the Montessori school there where we were serving food with the help of The Trotter Project and chef D’Andre.”
Andrés made an impromptu stop at The Montessori School of Englewood on the South Side, surprising chef D’Andre Carter, co-owner of Soul & Smoke barbecue kitchen in Evanston. Carter was delivering meals in partnership with World Central Kitchen and The Trotter Project, a legacy of the late Chicago chef Charlie Trotter.
The Spanish-American chef, once heralded for modernist fine dining, posted on Twitter: “Reporting in from Englewood in Chicago where we @WCKitchen are distributing fresh meals to the community here with our partner @TrotterProject ! Proud to be working with local chef DeAndre Carter...we are cooks who feed the few but together we can feed the many! #ChefsForAmerica”
“Chef D’Andre is a guy who spent his young years in Englewood,” said Andrés. “It’s amazing that this chef can put his restaurant to work as he partners with us and serves that community where he came from.”
World Central Kitchen has purchased more than 1 million meals from local restaurants nationwide for those in need as part of its Chefs for America emergency food relief program.
Andrés added that World Central Kitchen is also providing meals with Chicago Public Schools daily with local non-profit partners including the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Healthy Hood Chicago and The Trotter Project.
“In total in America we have over 1,600 restaurants working with us and that’s how we’re able to do 350,000 meals a day across America, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” said Andrés.
“Quite frankly in other emergencies when there is no light and total destruction things are harder, because sometimes you cannot reopen a restaurant,” said Andrés. “They’ve been destroyed in the areas we need to help, but we do open kitchens for other things.”
“Here the restaurants have been shut down, but they're in perfect condition,” he said. “So what we did is what we always do. We adapt. We have restaurants that we could put into the service of feeding people in need. Why not do that?”
“At the end of the day what World Central Kitchen has done is prove concepts,” said Andrés. “The concept that we can be talking to Congress over what we should do to make sure that on top of the health crisis and economic crisis that we don’t have a humanitarian crisis.”
“When we see photos of food being wasted on farms and at the same time long lines at food banks across America, we believe that we need shorter lines and longer tables,” he said. “We need many ways to make sure that we use total resources of the federal government, the private sector and NGOs so that food will not be a problem, but actually the solution.”
After helping deliver prepared meals to Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago on Monday, chef Jose Andres, second from left, and his team from World Central Kitchen stop for burgers and hot dogs at Fatso's Last Stand.(Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)
The James Beard Foundation awarded Andrés the Humanitarian of the Year award at the annual gala event in Chicago in 2018.
The chef had planned to open three restaurants in Chicago by this year. His fast casual and vegetable focused Beefsteak opened in the Gold Coast neighborhood last fall, but has closed temporarily. Two high profile restaurants are still in the works: a location of his famed Jaleo with Spanish tapas at the former Naha space in River North, and a riverfront restaurant with the Gibsons Restaurant Group in The Loop.
“We’ll open in the next year or two, when the time is right,” said Andrés.
Andrés joins former Vice President and presidential candidate Joe Biden for a live virtual town hall to discuss the coronavirus crisis, the future of the restaurant industry and the issue of food security amid the pandemic on Tuesday hosted by Yahoo News.
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