Jose Andres, the celebrity chef who sidestepped bureaucracy to bring aid to Gaza

Celebrity chef Jose Andres’s disdain for red tape is one of the reasons why his food charity found itself coordinating the humanitarian effort in Gaza when seven of its workers were killed in an Israeli airstrike.

The aid workers for World Central Kitchen (WCK) were killed late Monday when their convoy was hit shortly after overseeing the unloading of 100 tons of food brought to Gaza by sea.

Israel took responsibility for the attack, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledging a “tragic” and “unintentional” incident and vowing to “do everything” to prevent a recurrence.

WCK began last month moving food aid to starving people in northern Gaza via a maritime corridor from Cyprus, in collaboration with Spanish charity Open Arms.

This decision followed Israel’s refusal to allow the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) to deliver food to northern Gaza after claims that some agency staff had taken part in the massive October 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel, and that many others had ties to Hamas and other Gaza groups.

Oscar Camps, director of Open Arms, said in an interview with Reuters that the maritime route between Cyprus and Gaza had been open since December 20, but no organization had used it.

Charity workers constructed a makeshift jetty from rubble and unloaded the aid just meters away from bombardments amid warnings from Israel that it could not guarantee their security, he said.

Andres, who is Spanish and American, said on X he decided to get involved in the maritime aid delivery after an invitation from the Cypriot government, hoping other aid providers would follow suit.

He said on March 26 that 67 WCK kitchens were operating in Gaza, feeding 350,000 people a day. Operations are now suspended following the Israeli airstrike on the WCK convoy.

Earlier in the conflict, WCK had partnered with restaurants and hospitals in Israel to feed people displaced or injured by the shock October 7 Hamas attack on the country, and then switched in February to helping air drops of aid over Gaza.

Tomer Goldberg, an Israeli entrepreneur, said WCK played a vital role in the finance and distribution of meals to displaced Israelis after the Hamas invasion, assisting the Brothers in Arms” volunteer network that organized civilian relief efforts. “They are amazing people,” he told Army Radio on Tuesday evening, hailing WCK’s efficiency, concern, and non-political nature. “They have no political agenda,” he said. “They help feed hungry refugees, period.”

War erupted on October 7 when Hamas led a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took a further 253 hostages. Israel responded with a military offensive to destroy Hamas, topple its Gaza regime, and free the hostages, of whom 130 remain in captivity, some of them dead.

Hamas claims some 32,000 Gazans have been killed in the war, an unverifiable figure that does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed over 13,000 gunmen. Over 250 IDF soldiers have been killed in the Strip.

‘Adaptive’
Founded by Andres in 2010 after he traveled to Haiti to help following an earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people, WCK has fast become one of the leading providers of emergency aid at scenes of natural disaster or human conflict.

The NGO describes itself as “first to the frontlines,” using an “entrepreneurial and adaptive” approach to “err on the side of feeding people expediently vs. asking for permission or following systems and bureaucracy that lack urgency and flexibility.”

“When others are assessing the situation, we are already feeding, and in the process we learn what is going on, not the other way around,” Andres told the Spanish language edition of Vanity Fair in a recent interview.

The charity says it entered Ukraine five days after Russia’s invasion in February 2022 and set up restaurants in five cities.

Born in 1969 in a coal mining town in Spain’s northern Asturias region, Andres worked as an apprentice at Ferran Adria’s experimental El Bulli restaurant near Barcelona before moving to the US in 1991, where he set up tapas restaurant Jaleo.

His company ThinkFoodGroup now owns more than 20 restaurants including one with two Michelin stars.

He has cultivated relationships with some of the US’s most powerful people, receiving a $100 million donation from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2021 and striking up a rapport with former US President Barack Obama.

Obama’s government in 2014 named him an “Outstanding American by Choice,” an award given to naturalized US citizens who have achieved extraordinary things, following up with the National Humanities Medal in 2015.

His relationship with Obama’s successor Donald Trump was less cordial.

(Source: Times of Israel)