José Andrés: Humanitarian of the Year with Book Coming Soon

The chef was honored by the James Beard Foundation.

By Ethan L. Johns
February 22, 2018

Image: HarperCollins

José Andrés might not be able to do much about the fact that over 15 percent of Puerto Ricans are still without power, but then again that was never his job. With his hunger relief organization World Central Kitchen, the chef’s job was to feed people—and so he did with efficiency and respect.

Three million meals (and counting) later, Andrés was named “Humanitarian of the Year” on Wednesday by the James Beard Foundation in recognition of his food and hunger advocacy. Andrés seemingly sets the tone for the foundation’s annual theme, “RISE,” which acknowledges chefs that “rise to the occasion […] whether to feed those in need, to stand up for what they believe in, to support their local communities, or to express their personal stories through their cooking.”

While Puerto Rico relied heavily on imports before Hurricane Maria (85 percent of its food came from elsewhere), the island’s small but flourishing agricultural system was all but wiped out when the storm hit. Shortages were rampant, electricity was nearly non-existent and food was scarce. So Andrés and World Central Kitchen showed up with a FEMA contract to provide food relief and, with surprising speed, scaled their operation to the point where they were feeding up to 60,000 meals per day within the first month.

We’re not talking junk meals or military MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) like the ones that were provided by other relief organizations after the 2017 hurricane season. Andrés and World Central Kitchen solicited and received donations of food and turned them into millions of hot, chef-cooked meals of paella and sancocho. This has special importance in terms of working toward restoring food sovereignty, which requires access to healthy and culturally appropriate food—a criteria that imported government cheese and candy bars do not fulfill.

“José’s work in Puerto Rico and Haiti shows how chefs can use their expertise and unique skills to enact profound change on a global scale,” said JBF executive vice president Mitchell Davis in a press release. “He has demonstrated how, at the most difficult times, hot-cooked meals provide more than nutrition, they provide dignity.

Andrés revealed earlier this month that a book about his experiences was in the works. Coinciding with the JBF honor, HarperCollins imprint Ecco Books announced on Wednesday that it would be releasing “We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time,” written by Andrés with Richard Wolffe, on September 11th, 2018. It will be a part of Ecco’s Anthony Bourdain Books collection.

While a portion of the book’s sales will continue chef Andrés’ mission by going directly to World Central Kitchen, the objective is also to inspire. Bourdain said, according to Eater, that he hopes the book will be “a practical blueprint for how humans can and should best react in the face of disaster.”

In the meantime, somebody call the Nobel Committee?

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns