Days after a Russian missile hit a communal kitchen in Ukraine run by José Andrés, the celebrity chef says he still cooks.
Four employees of Andres’ World Central Kitchen were wounded along with dozens of others. At least one person was killed. But the fast-growing kitchen chain is still open, having served nearly 12 million meals since the Russian invasion began on February 25.
Hospital workers in the wrecked kitchen say they plan to return to work when their burns heal. Others have managed to salvage food and equipment already in one of the other two dozen WCK kitchens in war-torn Kharkiv.
“If anything, we’re expanding,” Andrés told Side Dish on Monday. “Everyone is still cooking and taking care of the people. When the kids are here, we are here. We opened 10 more restaurants today.”
The Spanish-born American celebrity chef — based in Washington, DC — has restaurants across the US, including New York. Andrés founded WCK in 2010 to help people survive natural disasters. This is his first war.
“Is it scary? Naturally. It’s a war,” Andrés said. “You can be hit by a bomb or missile at any time. But people need our help.”
“When you’re delivering food to places the Russians have just left and you see mines all around you and sirens going off all around you, you know you’re in a different situation,” he added added. “But we will never solve problems without taking some risk.”
Andrés is one of the first two recipients of Jeff Bezos’ $100 million Courage and Civility Award, and he’s using some of the money in Ukraine, WCK’s largest operation to date. The things he saw he will never forget. WCK was in Kramatorsk when the train station – where thousands of women and children were trying to get to safety – was bombed, killing at least 54 people.
Andrés was also in Bucha, where Russians committed horrific war crimes – rape, torture and murder – hours after he was liberated.
“When you see wrecked cars with child seats and you know that this was a family trying to escape, it touches you,” Andrés said. “And when you bring food to people who haven’t eaten real food in more than 30 days, you see the sadness and the happiness – the horror of what they’ve experienced and the happiness of release – not real happiness, but a restrained happiness . It’s hard to explain, but you can see it in their eyes.
“Like when I first arrived in Bucha. I said I would come back with more food and they were surprised when I did. It’s that kind of reassurance people need to know that things are getting better, even in the midst of war. It gives you a kind of joy – only that the work goes on even if people die. So it’s a very low-key satisfaction,” Andrés said.
WCK also pays local partners to provide meals and delivers 25-pound grocery bags for people who can cook at home. They operate in more than 90 Ukrainian cities, as well as in Poland, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Spain. They deliver 300,000 meals a day and have transported 6.1 million pounds of groceries to date.
President Biden toured WCK’s operations in Poland, where celebrities including Liev Schreiber and chef Marc Murphy have volunteered.
Andrés was at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami when Russia launched its invasion on February 25th. He left before speaking to a friend over dinner. Within hours of the invasion, WCK was on the ground in Ukraine. WCK is based on donations and has no government contracts.
Last week, Andrés called from Chernihiv, near Belarus, on the road to Kyiv, where he caught the first train after a 39-day siege that left the city without heat, gas, electricity or water. Trains and bridges were destroyed along with thousands of homes. At the height of the siege, about 100 people were dying every day. Bodies keep turning up.
“People were so happy to see this train and people rebuilt the bridge in four days,” said Andrés of an Italian restaurant that now serves 10,000 to 20,000 meals a day. It was after the 8pm curfew and Andrés hunkered down for the night, armed with a sleeping bag and his phone.
“These guys are a great story. There were no trains or bridges [during the blockade] but they kept cooking, even hunting deer and cooking them with potatoes. People were still crossing the river in boats to get food,” Andrés said, adding that Chernihiv “looks like a bad movie. Every house was destroyed or damaged.”
Luckily, food shortages are not a problem. But the transportation is.
“Everyone has to be very creative. It’s not like you pick up the phone and order what you need like I do for my restaurants. And most supermarkets are still closed. Imagine the ports are completely closed and there has been shelling for 50 days. Everything comes mainly from Poland or Romania or even more complicated routes,” said Andrés.
WCK CEO Nate Mook, who was in Kharkiv on Saturday when the Russian missile struck, said Ukrainians – and WCK – are still fighting despite the danger.
“Of course they were shocked. It’s a terrible, shocking event. But they want to go back to work. It embodies the resilience and spirit of the Ukrainian people. They are happy about their victory. They’re not going to give up or back down,” Mook said.
https://nypost.com/2022/04/19/chef-jose-andres-expanding-ukraine-food-kitchens-despite-missile-attack/ Chef José Andrés ‘expands’ Ukrainian food kitchens despite missile attack