Apr 3, 2024 - Politics & Policy

When José Andrés speaks, Washington listens

President Biden stands with World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés in Warsaw, Poland, in 2022.

President Biden stands with World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés in Warsaw, Poland, in 2022. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's condolence call to José Andrés after Israeli strikes killed seven of his aid workers delivering food in Gaza underscores just how powerful a voice the celebrity chef has become.

Why it matters: When Andrés speaks, Washington listens.

  • The 54-year-old Spanish-born chef, who became a U.S. citizen in 2013, has long propelled the city's elite to rethink their assumptions about food.
  • Now he's demanding they focus their attention on the Palestinian civilians in Gaza who are facing starvation.

"The seven people killed on a World Central Kitchen mission in Gaza on Monday were the best of humanity," Andrés wrote in a New York Times op-ed Wednesday morning.

  • He called the strike a "direct attack on clearly marked vehicles whose movements were known by the Israel Defense Forces."

Driving the news: Outrage spread in D.C. — and internationally — as the raw facts of the tragedy became known.

  • A clearly marked World Central Kitchen convoy, having delivered 100 tons of humanitarian food to a warehouse in central Gaza, was pulverized by an Israeli strike.
  • The White House was quick to associate itself with Andrés and his efforts to feed civilians in Gaza.
  • President Biden issued a sharply critical statement saying Israel's government "has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians."
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an extremely rare apology, saying Israel "deeply regrets the tragic incident."

"We were outraged," John Kirby, White House national security communications adviser, said, confirming that one dual American-Canadian citizen was killed.

  • The nonprofit World Central Kitchen said it would suspend its operations in Gaza.

Zoom in: "People listen to Jose because he has earned their respect and admiration," said Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to DC.

  • "Perhaps this incident will help shed more light on the catastrophic situation in Gaza and what needs to be done to restore stability."
  • "José Andrés could've lived a life of luxury" but instead he "took on feeding the world's hungry," said Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), a fellow restauranteur. "He's not in this for the attention. He truly cares."

Zoom out: Since founding World Central Kitchen in 2010, Andrés has become as well known for his humanitarian work as his restaurants — feeding survivors of earthquakes in Haiti, hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and war in Ukraine.

  • More recently, Andrés has been trying to bring attention to the suffering and hunger of civilians in Gaza.
  • He's been an advocate for airdropping relief supplies and his charity ran the first humanitarian shipments to Gaza by sea.
  • Biden visited his nonprofit in Poland, where it was helping to feed Ukrainian refugees calling him his "friend" and thanking him for "feeding those who are yearning to be free."

Between the lines: Andrés doesn't shy away from the spotlight or high-profile fights.

  • Former President Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal in 2016.
  • The same year, after then-candidate Donald Trump made disparaging comments about Mexicans, Andrés pulled down his plan to open up a restaurant at Trump's new venue, the Trump International Hotel. The Bazaar finally opened last year — in the former Trump hotel, which became a Waldorf Astoria.
  • Last year, he founded the Global Food Institute at George Washington University in D.C.

Editor's note: This article was updated with quotes from a José Andrés op-ed.

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