For many people in the country — especially for the president — reaching the cover of TIME Magazine is a major accomplishment; it’s a kind of absolute recognition that something has been achieved in one’s career.
However, as the president washes his hands of the country’s widespread crisis over the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrants like Chef José Andrés are battling in the streets to lend a hand to local governments.
Especially in his hometown, New York City, that has been the epicenter of this public health crisis in the United States. Although José Andrés does not know how to treat patients in an emergency room, what he does know is how to feed people.
As reported by the New York Post last week, the chef transformed eight of his famous restaurants in the city and in Washington, DC, “into gourmet soup kitchens of sorts for those who are struggling to make ends meet in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.”
“While the to-go only meals cost $7 for guests who can afford it, volunteers running the community kitchens will be flexible with patrons who may be out of work or financially constrained due to a near shutdown of daily life,” the media added. “There’s also an option to donate a meal to someone else who might need it.”
“Those who cannot afford to pay we will welcome as well,” Andrés said in a statement, adding that many of his restaurants will otherwise be closed.
Similarly, in an effort to support all fronts against the virus, Chef Andrés started a donation campaign this week to bring thousands of N95 masks to health workers at George Washington Hospital, Medstar Washington, and other medical centers in the area, according to Fox 5.
Through his World Central Kitchen (WCK) Foundation, Chef Andrés has dedicated his humanitarian work to meeting the basic food needs of communities affected by natural or man-made disasters, earning him the National Humanities Medal in 2015.
Born in Asturias, Spain, José Andrés was educated at the culinary school of Barcelona, where he met Ferran Adrià and worked with him at the famous restaurant El Bulli between 1988 and 1990. When he was fired, he decided to immigrate to the United States.
With only 50 dollars in his pocket, the young chef began his career from the bottom up, working as a cook in a Spanish restaurant in downtown Manhattan and starting his tour of other establishments such as Jaleo in Washington D.C., Café Atlántico, Zaytinya, and Oyamel.
In 2003 he founded his first business, started his own cooking show, and published his first book.
Three years later, and in association with Robert Wilder, José Andrés founded ThinkFoodGroup, a partnership that would allow him to open restaurants all over the country.
In 2010, the chef began his humanitarian work with the creation of World Central Kitchen, an organization that offers healthy meals to countries in need such as the Dominican Republic, Zambia, Cambodia, and Nicaragua.
His name became even more famous in 2015, when then presidential candidate Donald Trump opened his campaign with racist comments against Mexican immigrants, to which Andrés responded rescinding his contract with the Trump Organization for a restaurant at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.
By 2019, the chef had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
But beyond awards, recognition, and covers, his work is what identifies him, especially at a time when social distancing, government responses, and failures in the social system put vulnerable people in a critical situation.
“The coronavirus pandemic threatens to create both a public health and economic catastrophe. But we cannot afford to ignore the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding out of sight,” José Andrés wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times. “Our fate as a nation depends on how we feed our most vulnerable citizens through this crisis. If our leaders step up now with federal aid, food can be the solution — supporting millions of jobs while also feeding millions of people in desperate need.”
“In every disaster zone where we cook for the many, we find that a plate of food is never just a meal on a dish. It is a plate of hope: a message from the community that someone, somewhere cares,” he concluded