In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Chef José Andrés fed hungry Puerto Ricans, including those in more remote areas. The Spanish chef arrived in Puerto Rico five days after the hurricane devastated the island on September 20, and he’s worked tirelessly since then. To date, he’s served more than 2.2 million meals – a number that surpasses the efforts of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the government, according to The New York Times. His kitchens are being called the largest “emergency feeding program ever set up by a group of chefs,” and the results surprise even him.
“Every day I have this personal anxiety inside,” he told the NYT. “We only came here to try to help a few thousand people because nobody had a plan to feed Puerto Rico, and we opened the biggest restaurant in the world in a week. That’s how crazy it is.”
Andrés’ networking made it possible for him to set up kitchens all over the island, as well as to gather the ingredients and tools necessary for these kitchens to functionally operate. At the beginning, Andrés paid for the operation from his own credit cards. His response is proof of the role prominent figures and chefs can play in aid recovery, something that Bob Ottenhoff, Center for Disaster Philanthrophy president, says is a trend.
“It’s part of a larger trend we’re starting to see with corporations and individuals who are applying their unique skill set to solve problems after a disaster,” he said. “Chefs are part of that trend now, too. They’re starting to say, ‘Look, people are in need of not just food but good food, and we know how to serve large quantities of good food very quickly.'”
Kimberly Grant, the chief executive of Andrés’ Think Food Group, says chefs are in a rare position to help because they can scrounge up seemingly random ingredients and come up with a delicious, cohesive meal. It’s also something that food personalities have done after other tragedies.
Puerto Rico is not the first time that Andrés has helped out after a natural disaster. He went to Houston to feed those recovering from the storm, but Puerto Rico faced different challenges, including an island that was almost entirely without electricity. And with the dire situation Puerto Ricans faced, the work load grew regularly as word spread of Andrés’ efforts. The chef even had to supply meals for the Salvation Army. “In my life I never expected the Salvation Army to be asking me for food,” he added. “If one of the biggest NGOs comes to us for food, who is actually going to be feeding Puerto Rico? We are. We are it.”
The chef is now scaling back, but his generosity will likely not soon be forgotten by Puerto Ricans. Head to The New York Times to learn more about how he pulled off this herculean feat.