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TEDxMidAtlantic

José Andrés: How a team of chefs fed Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

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After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, chef José Andrés traveled to the devastated island with a simple idea: to feed the hungry. Millions of meals served later, Andrés shares the remarkable story of creating the world's biggest restaurant -- and the awesome power of letting people in need know that somebody cares about them.

- Chef, humanitarian
José Andrés is a committed advocate of food and hunger issues and is known for championing the role of chefs in the national debate on food policy. Full bio

All right, let's get ready
for the worst TED Talk ever.
00:12
(Laughter)
00:15
I mean it. We prepared 30 minutes ago.
00:20
I want to have it clear --
I love to be here with you all,
00:23
but I wanted to be here
not to tell my story
00:26
but to tell the story
of the amazing people of Puerto Rico
00:28
that came together
to feed the people of Puerto Rico.
00:34
My name is José Andrés,
and you know I love to feed the few,
00:39
but even more, I love to feed the many.
00:41
Here, right after the hurricane,
00:44
like we'd done many times before
after an earthquake in Haiti
00:47
or Sandy or others,
00:51
I had this sense of urgency to be there
00:55
and to try to feed one person,
00:58
and always, you have crazy friends
that want to join you
01:00
in those impossible endeavors.
01:03
I'm always surrounded by amazing friends
that only help me to be better.
01:04
Nate came next to me.
01:08
This was a Monday,
and this is what we found.
01:11
The destruction you saw on TV,
one more hurricane,
01:15
but this destruction was real.
01:19
More than 85 percent of the electricity
in the island was gone.
01:21
Every single electric post was gone.
01:26
All the cell towers were gone.
01:28
You couldn't communicate with anybody.
01:30
You couldn't find anybody the moment
you moved away from San Juan.
01:33
Even in San Juan, we had issues
trying to use our cell phones.
01:37
And what I found
was that the island was hungry,
01:42
and the people didn't have money,
because ATMs were not working,
01:49
or their cards, which are electronic,
for food stamps,
01:54
they couldn't use it
in their supermarkets,
01:57
or there was no food or gas
or clean water to cook.
02:00
The need and the urgency of now was real,
02:05
and I was just able
to get into a meeting at FEMA,
02:09
where many of the main
NGO partners were having a conversation
02:14
about how to feed the island
in the weeks to come,
02:20
but the urgency was right now,
in this minute, in this second,
02:23
and we almost had three million people
that needed to be fed.
02:28
So we began doing what we do best.
02:32
We went to see the sources of food,
02:34
and I was able to see that the private
industry actually was ready
02:36
and prepared and thriving,
02:39
but somebody at FEMA was not able
even to be aware of that.
02:41
And what we did was use fine kitchens.
02:44
José Enrique, one of my favorite
men in the whole world,
02:46
one of the great restaurants in San Juan,
02:49
where before landing, I began
calling all the chefs of Puerto Rico,
02:51
and everybody was like,
"Let's not plan, let's not meet,
02:55
let's start cooking."
03:00
(Laughter)
03:02
And that's what we did.
03:03
We began feeding the people
of Puerto Rico, on a Monday.
03:05
On a Monday, we did a thousand meals,
sancocho, an amazing stew
03:08
with corn and yucca and pork.
03:12
By Sunday, we were doing 25,000.
03:15
By Sunday, we already
didn't only use the restaurant,
03:18
but we rented the parking lot
right across.
03:21
We began bringing food trucks,
03:25
and a rice and chicken pie
operation, and refrigerators,
03:27
and volunteers began coming.
03:31
Why? Because everybody wants
to find a place to help,
03:32
a place to do something.
03:36
This is how we began our first delivery.
03:39
The hospitals -- nobody was feeding
the nurses and the doctors,
03:42
and we began feeding our first project,
03:45
Hospital Carolina.
03:48
All of a sudden, every single
hospital was calling us.
03:50
"We need food so we can feed
our 24/7 employees
03:53
taking care of the sick
and the elderly and the people in need."
03:58
And then the place was too small.
We were receiving orders.
04:03
Every time we got one guest, one customer,
04:08
we never stopped serving them,
04:11
because we wanted to make sure
that we were able to be stabilizing
04:12
any place we were joining,
04:15
any city, any hospital, any elderly home.
04:18
Every time we made contact with them,
we kept serving them food, day after day,
04:22
so we needed to grow.
04:26
We moved into the big coliseum.
04:27
25,000 meals became 50,000 meals,
04:29
became, all of a sudden,
the biggest restaurant in the world.
04:33
We were making close to 70,000 meals a day
04:36
from one location alone.
04:42
(Applause)
04:44
Volunteers began showing up
by the hundreds.
04:49
At one point, we got
more than 7,000 volunteers
04:52
that were at least one hour
or more with us,
04:56
at any given moment,
more than 700 people at once.
04:58
You saw that we began creating a movement,
05:02
a movement that had a very simple idea
everybody could rally behind:
05:04
let's feed the hungry.
05:08
And we began making food
that people could recognize,
05:11
not things that come from a faraway place
05:14
in plastic bags that you open
and you cannot even smell.
05:17
(Laughter)
05:21
We began making the foods
that people feel home.
05:22
People in these moments, they had
this urgency of feeling they are alive,
05:26
that somebody cares.
05:31
One meal at a time,
05:32
it didn't only become something
used to bring calories to their bodies,
05:34
calories that they needed,
05:38
but they needed something else.
05:39
They wanted to make sure
that you and you and you and you,
05:41
that you were caring,
05:43
that we were sending the message
that we are with you.
05:45
Give us time, we are trying to fix this.
05:47
That's what we found every time
we began joining the communities.
05:50
Fresh fruit began coming,
05:53
even when in FEMA, they were asking me,
05:55
"José, how are you able to get the food?"
05:57
Simple: by calling and paying and getting.
06:00
(Laughter)
06:02
(Applause)
06:05
We began feeding people in San Juan.
06:10
Before you knew, we were feeding the 78
municipalities all across the island.
06:12
We needed a plan. One kitchen alone
was not going to feed the island.
06:17
I went to FEMA. They kicked me out
with eight armored guards and AK-47s.
06:21
I told them, "I want 18 kitchens
around the island."
06:26
Guess what? Three days ago,
we reached our 18th kitchen
06:30
around Puerto Rico.
06:34
(Applause)
06:36
People began being fed.
06:40
Volunteers kept showing up.
06:41
We never had any system
to deliver the food, people would tell me.
06:43
Sure, we had the system.
06:47
The entire island of Puerto Rico
was the perfect delivery system.
06:49
Anybody with a truck wanted to help.
06:53
Anybody going from A to B
was for us the way to be bringing hope
06:56
and a plate and a whole meal to anybody.
07:00
We began finding amazing systems
to do these food trucks,
07:03
10 amazing food trucks.
07:06
We began learning not to use
the place that needed the food,
07:08
but the number,
07:12
the number of the apartment:
07:14
Lolo, a 92-year-old veteran
that was surrounded by water.
07:16
We began giving not only hope to people,
07:21
but knowing their names,
07:24
checking day after day,
07:26
making sure that those elderly people
will never, ever again feel alone
07:28
in a moment of disrepair.
07:32
And we began going to the deeper areas,
07:34
places that all of a sudden,
the bridges were broken,
07:36
but we had to go, because it was easy
to stay in San Juan.
07:40
We had to go to those places
that actually, they really needed us.
07:43
And we kept going,
and people kept waiting for us,
07:47
because they knew
that we will always show up,
07:50
because we will never leave them alone.
07:52
(Applause)
07:55
The food trucks became our angels,
08:00
and the food trucks kept sending hope,
08:03
but we saw we needed more:
08:06
Vieques and Culebra,
two islands far away from the island --
08:08
somebody had to be feeding them.
08:12
We didn't only bring food and make
a hotel kitchen operation in Vieques
08:14
and bring daily food to Culebra.
08:17
We brought the first
water purification system
08:19
to the island of Vieques,
08:22
where we could be filtering
one gallon per minute.
08:24
All of a sudden, big problems
become very simple,
08:26
low-hanging fruit solutions,
08:29
only by doing, not planning
and meeting in a very big building.
08:31
(Laughter)
08:35
And then we found creative ways.
08:37
We needed helicopters. We asked. We got.
08:38
We needed planes. We asked,
we paid, and we got.
08:41
We kept sending food to those places
that really were in need.
08:44
And the simple ideas just become powerful.
08:48
Volunteers will go
to the edges of the island.
08:52
All of a sudden, it was a movement.
08:56
The teams of World Central Kitchen
08:58
will be received with prayers,
with songs, with claps, with hearts,
09:00
with smiles.
09:05
We were able to connect
in so many corners.
09:07
When I tell you that even
the National Guard began calling us
09:10
because our national poor guy's guards,
09:14
big heroes in a moment of chaos,
09:18
they couldn't get a simple
humble plate of hot food.
09:20
And partnerships show up.
09:26
Mercy Corps,
09:28
HSI from Homeland Security,
09:30
partnerships that they
didn't happen calling the top.
09:33
They happened in the hotel room,
in the middle of the street,
09:36
in the middle of the mountains.
09:39
We saw that by working together,
we can even reach more people.
09:41
Partnerships that happen by logic,
09:45
and the urgency of now
is put to the service of the people.
09:49
When we have emergency
relief organizations,
09:53
we cannot be planning about
how to give aid a month from now.
09:56
We have to be ready to start giving help
10:00
the second after something happens.
10:03
And children were fed,
10:08
and all of a sudden, the island,
10:10
while still in a very special moment
10:13
where everything is fragile,
10:18
we saw that an NGO like ours --
10:20
we didn't want to break
the private sector --
10:22
that already, small restaurants
were being opened,
10:26
that somehow, normalcy,
10:29
whatever normalcy means
today in Puerto Rico, was happening.
10:32
We began trying to be sending the message:
10:36
we need to start moving
away from the places
10:38
that are already stabilized
10:40
and keep concentrating in the areas
that really need help.
10:43
(Video): People of Puerto Rico,
two million meals!
10:47
José Andrés OK,
let me translate this to you.
10:53
(Laughter)
10:55
Almost 28 days later,
10:59
more than 10 food trucks,
11:04
more than 7,000 volunteers,
11:06
18 kitchens ...
11:08
we served more than two million meals.
11:11
(Applause)
11:15
(Applause ends)
11:25
And you guys coming here to TED,
you should be proud,
11:26
because we know many of you,
you are part of the change.
11:29
But the change is only going to happen
if after we leave this amazing conference,
11:33
we put the amazing ideas
and inspiration that we get,
11:37
and we believe that nothing is impossible,
11:41
and we put our know-how
to the service of those in need.
11:44
I arrived to an island
trying to feed a few people,
11:48
and I saw a big problem,
11:51
and all of a sudden, the people
of Puerto Rico saw the same problem as me,
11:54
and only we did one thing:
11:59
we began cooking.
12:01
And so the people of Puerto Rico
12:03
and the chefs of Puerto Rico,
in a moment of disrepair,
12:05
began bringing hope,
12:09
not by meeting,
12:12
not by planning,
12:13
but with only one simple idea:
12:16
let's start cooking
and let's start feeding
12:19
the people of Puerto Rico.
12:22
Thank you.
12:23
(Applause)
12:25
Dave Troy: Go back out.
12:27
(Laughter)
12:28
DT: The public loves you.
12:29
(Applause)
12:30
Nate Mook: A couple of quick questions,
12:37
because I think some folks
would be interested to hear.
12:39
So as you said, you came the first time,
12:42
got on the ground,
12:45
went to the government command center,
12:47
started to have some meetings with people,
12:50
and they weren't very receptive.
12:52
José Andrés: This is great.
This is how good my talk was.
12:55
(Laughter)
12:58
It's the first talk with a follow-up
in the history of TED.
13:00
I feel so good.
13:03
(Laughter)
13:05
NM: So tell us why,
what were some of the challenges,
13:06
and then when you noticed,
they started coming to you to ask you.
13:08
JA: We cannot be asking everything
from Red Cross or Salvation Army.
13:13
But the idea is, I donated before
to those organizations,
13:16
and they are the big organizations,
13:20
and maybe the problem is
that we're expecting too much from them.
13:22
It's not like they didn't do
what they were supposed to do.
13:26
It's that the perception
is that that's what they do.
13:31
But all of a sudden, you cannot get into
a moment like this and wash your hands,
13:35
and you say somebody else
is going to be picking it up.
13:40
We had a simple problem
that had a very simple solution.
13:45
This was not a faraway country
13:50
or the Green Zone in Baghdad.
13:53
This was American soil,
13:55
a beautiful place called Puerto Rico,
13:57
with hundreds, thousands of restaurants
and people willing to help,
13:59
but all of a sudden, we had people hungry,
14:05
and we didn't have a plan
how to feed them in the short term.
14:07
So yes, FEMA, to a degree, was thinking
about how to feed the people.
14:12
Red Cross didn't have the right answers,
14:18
because Southern Baptist Church,
the biggest food organization in America,
14:20
my heroes, they were never
called to Puerto Rico.
14:24
When you see the Red Cross delivering
food in America after a hurricane,
14:29
it's Southern Baptist Church doing it.
14:32
We didn't have that in Puerto Rico.
14:35
Salvation Army came and asked me
for 420 meals on a Wednesday rainy night
14:38
for a local elderly shop.
14:42
I love to help the Salvation Army,
14:44
but in my world, they are the ones
who are supposed to be helping us
14:47
to answer those calls of help.
14:53
Thursday morning
is when I wake up super worried
14:56
that actually we didn't have
the plan to feed the island.
14:59
And some people will say
maybe you are making the problem
15:03
bigger than it was.
15:06
Well, we had hundreds and hundreds
and hundreds and hundreds of organizations
15:08
knocking on our door,
asking for a tray of food,
15:12
so if that's not proof
that the need was real ...
15:16
We cannot be feeding people
in America anymore with MREs
15:19
or something like you open and, you know,
15:23
I was giving to this little cat
a little bit of those same foods --
15:25
(Laughter)
15:30
and then I gave them
the chicken and rice we made,
15:31
and they went for the chicken and rice.
15:34
(Laughter)
15:36
(Applause)
15:37
They don't even eat that themselves.
15:39
We can feed humanity
for a day or two or five,
15:41
but those MREs cost, like, 12, 14, 15,
20 dollars to the American taxpayer.
15:45
It's OK for certain moments,
15:51
during battle,
15:52
but not to be feeding Americans
for weeks and weeks and weeks,
15:54
when actually, you can be hiring
the local private business community
15:58
to do the same job better,
creating local jobs,
16:03
helping the local economy to come back,
16:07
and in the process making sure
that everything was going to go back
16:09
as normal as quick as possible.
16:13
That's where we began cooking.
16:15
You were there with me,
16:17
and that's why we spent every single
dollar we had in our credit cards.
16:19
If AmEx is listening to this, please,
a discount would be appreciated.
16:23
(Laughter)
16:27
Or Visa.
16:29
NM: So what's the situation now?
16:31
You know, it's been a month.
16:34
You said there's been
some improvements in San Juan
16:36
and focus on the areas outside,
16:39
but obviously there are still
major challenges, and what's next?
16:41
JA: There are. So what's next
is we slowly began going down
16:45
after, more or less, FEMA let us know
16:50
that they thought they had
everything under control
16:52
and we were no longer needed,
16:54
but you only believe everything so much.
16:57
We moved from the big place you saw,
60,000 meals a day,
17:01
to another one, as big,
but more strategically located,
17:06
also cheaper,
17:09
where we are going to be making
20-25,000 meals a day,
17:12
and then we are leaving
four, five, six kitchens
17:14
strategically located around the island,
17:17
very high up in the mountains,
in the poor areas.
17:20
We got a lot of data.
17:23
We know who is using SNAPs,
who is using food stamps,
17:25
the cards.
17:28
We know who has them
and we know who is using them.
17:31
So in the parts of the island
where nobody is using them,
17:34
those are the parts of the island where
we are going to be focusing our efforts.
17:38
So it's amazing how sometimes
simple data can give you a clue
17:41
of who are the people in need.
17:44
So we went to a town called Morovis.
17:47
Beautiful.
17:51
The best chicken restaurant
in the history of mankind.
17:52
You should all travel to Morovis.
17:55
DT: Sounds good.
17:57
JA: So I saw the chicken.
We were bringing sandwiches.
17:58
I stopped. I was with
these Homeland Security officers.
18:00
We ate the chicken.
18:03
I left to drop these sandwiches
in this other place called San Lorenzo.
18:04
San Lorenzo was critical,
because the bridge was broken,
18:09
and so it was an island inside the island,
18:12
a little community surrounded by water.
18:14
Everybody told us,
"It's a disaster down there."
18:16
We dropped the sandwiches.
18:19
I went back to Morovis, and I thought,
18:20
you know, if it's a disaster,
sandwiches is not enough.
18:22
I brought 120 chickens,
18:25
with yucca and with rice,
18:27
and we went back to that broken bridge,
18:30
we crossed the river,
18:32
water up to everywhere.
18:35
We arrived with the 120 chickens,
18:37
we dropped the food,
18:40
and the community
were very thankful, but they told us,
18:41
"We're OK, we don't need more food.
18:45
We have gas, we have money,
18:47
we have good food and our water is clean.
18:49
Take care of the other communities
around us that are in more need."
18:52
You see, communication is key.
18:55
In these scenarios, we can be
relying on fake news
18:58
or we can be having the real information
that we can make smart decisions
19:02
to really take care of the true issues.
19:07
That's what we are doing.
19:09
(Applause)
19:11
NM: It was an amazing operation,
19:16
and to witness it firsthand
and to play a small role --
19:19
JA: You made it happen.
19:22
NM: At its peak, I think
you were up to about 150,000 meals
19:24
per day, across the island,
19:28
which is pretty incredible.
19:30
And I think, at the same time,
really sort of setting a model
19:32
for how this can be done,
hopefully, moving forward.
19:35
I mean, I think that's one
of the big learnings out of this --
19:38
DT: This is possible.
You know, people can replicate this.
19:41
JA: But I'm going to stop coming
to watch TED Talks,
19:44
because you've got ideas
that anything can happen.
19:47
(Laughter)
19:49
And then my wife told me,
19:51
"Man, you told me you were going
to cook a thousand meals a day.
19:54
I cannot leave you alone for a day.
19:57
(Laughter)
19:59
But I hope that World Central Kitchen --
20:02
you know, one thing we did I didn't say:
20:05
I picked up the phone
and I began calling people,
20:07
people that I thought had expertise
that could help us.
20:09
So I picked up the phone and I called
a company called Bon Appétit, Fedele.
20:13
Bon Appétit's one of
the big catering companies.
20:17
They do food for Google and for arenas.
20:19
They're out of California.
20:23
They belong to a bigger group
called Compass.
20:24
And I told them, "You know what?
20:27
I need cooks, and I need cooks
that can do volume
20:29
and that can do good, quality volume."
20:34
In less than 24 hours,
I began getting people and chefs.
20:37
At one point, we got 16 of the best chefs
that America can offer.
20:40
You see, America
is an amazing heart country
20:44
that always is sending their best.
20:48
What we've been learning over the years
20:50
is that those chefs of America
are going to be playing a role
20:52
in how we are going to be feeding America
and maybe other parts of the world
20:56
in times of need.
20:59
What we need to start
21:01
is bringing the right expertise
where the expertise is needed.
21:02
Sometimes I have a feeling,
like with FEMA,
21:06
we are bringing the wrong expertise
in the areas that it's not even needed.
21:09
The people of FEMA are great people.
21:13
The men and women are smart,
21:15
they are prepared,
21:17
but they live under this amazing hierarchy
pyramidal organizational chart
21:18
that everybody falls
out of their own weight.
21:23
We need to be empowering
people to be successful.
21:26
What we did was
a flatter organizational chart
21:29
where everybody was owning the situation
21:32
and we all made quick decisions
to solve the problems on the spot.
21:35
(Applause)
21:38
DT: Absolutely.
21:41
(Applause)
21:42
Another round of applause for José Andrés.
21:43
(Applause) (Cheering)
21:45

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About the speaker:

José Andrés - Chef, humanitarian
José Andrés is a committed advocate of food and hunger issues and is known for championing the role of chefs in the national debate on food policy.

Why you should listen

Named one of TIME's "100 Most Influential People," awarded "Outstanding Chef" and "Humanitarian of the Year" by the James Beard Foundation, José Andrés is an internationally-recognized culinary innovator, author, educator, television personality, humanitarian and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup. A pioneer of Spanish tapas in the United States, he is also known for his groundbreaking avant-garde cuisine and his award-winning group of 28 restaurants plus a food truck located throughout the country and in Mexico City. Andrés is the only chef globally that has both a two-star Michelin restaurant and four Bib Gourmands. His award-winning restaurants include two Michelin starred minibar by José Andrés, Jaleo, Zaytinya, J by José Andrés at W Mexico City, Bazaar Meat at SLS Las Vegas, the Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills and South Beach, and Beefsteak, his vegetable-driven fast-casual concept. Andrés is a committed advocate of food and hunger issues and is known for championing the role of chefs in the national debate on food policy. In 2012, he formed World Central Kitchen, a non-profit that provides smart solutions to hunger and poverty by using the power of food to empower communities and strengthen economies. Together with World Central Kitchen and #ChefsforPuertoRico, Andrés served more than 3.3 million meals in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, reaching communities in need across all 78 municipalities through 23 kitchens.

Andrés's work has earned awards and distinctions including the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from International Association of Culinary Professionals and the 2015 National Humanities Medal, one of twelve distinguished recipients of the award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Andrés was also named EY Master Entrepreneur of the Year in Greater Washington for his leadership and impact on the global business community and was also awarded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Chair’s Medallion Award. 

More profile about the speaker
José Andrés | Speaker | TED.com