Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Spanish Chef José Andrés immediately leapt into action to help the island’s inhabitants. He set up kitchens all over the island and served more than 2.2 million meals in about a month. But even as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Andrés first financed the efforts from his own pocket) awarded him two short-term contracts worth a combined $11.5 million, the chef remained critical of the agency. And now in an interview with BuzzFeed, a FEMA official is firing back and accusing Andrés of being a “businessman looking for stuff to promote his business.”
Marty Bahamonde, director of the FEMA disaster operations division, explained the agency is upset about the comments Andrés made. “He was very critical of us publicly and we were disappointed he took that approach,” Bahamonde said. “We had a good working relationship, and we paid him a lot of money to do that work. It wasn’t volunteer work – so we were disappointed in some of his public comments.”
On his Twitter account on October 10, for example, Andrés called the agency “the most inefficient place on earth leaving the people of Puerto Rico hungry and thirsty.” And though FEMA recognizes that Andrés accomplished something monumental and reached more remote areas of the island, the agency doesn’t believe the criticism is warranted. FEMA also said that the chef expressed disappointment that the governmental agency didn’t move quickly enough, stating that Andrés wanted a $30 million contract to last through the end of December.
For his part, Andrés – whose operation on the island is winding down – denies this is true. He reportedly told the agency he had no issue with shorter contracts but asked discussions begin at the beginning of the week, so he could have ample time to coordinate. José called the experience largely positive and recalls several moments that touched his heart, but he remains critical. “For them to say I was a businessman trying to make a buck, whoever said that should be very ashamed of themselves,” he said.
Andrés also asked them to live up to their name. “I didn’t put the word ’emergency’ in FEMA,” he added. “They need to ask themselves what’s the definition of ’emergency.’ The definition of that to me is feeding people now.”