May 17, 2023 - News

Upheaval at José Andrés' World Central Kitchen

Chef Tim Kilcoyne. Photo: Michael Bezjian/Getty Images

Former WCK chef Tim Kilcoyne. Photo: Michael Bezjian/Getty Images/LA Times Food Bowl

Allegations of sexual harassment inside the top ranks of José Andrés' nonprofit World Central Kitchen preceded a sudden regime change at the group last year, as first reported by Bloomberg News.

Why it matters: WCK, which Andrés launched in 2010 and is headquartered in D.C., has become one of the world’s leading relief organizations — often first on the ground, such as in Ukraine — with thousands of volunteers, over 100 employees and more than $100 million in revenue in 2021.

  • Despite its skyrocketing growth, WCK hired its first dedicated HR employee only in 2020.

Zoom in: Tim Kilcoyne lost his job as director of emergency relief at WCK in June 2022 following an investigation into misconduct, the group's co-founder Rob Wilder tells Axios in a statement.

  • The misconduct allegations came from a number of women starting in 2018, per Bloomberg, and ranged from flirting and sexual discussions to pressuring individuals into sleeping in his hotel room and having sex.
  • The news outlet spoke to 10 current and former employees, volunteers and contractors, including five who say they were directly harassed.

WCK's CEO Nate Mook departed the month after Kilcoyne — a sudden exit that was announced in only a short statement remarkable for its "opaque tone," as the Washington Post put it at the time, considering that Mook helped build WCK's massive growth and reputation.

  • Andrés wished Mook well on Twitter when he departed, writing that Mook "changed our lives...and the lives of many! We will miss you at @WCKitchen but I can not wait to see what you will do next..Gracias amigo!"
  • Wilder tells Axios that Mook's departure came as a result of the nonprofit reviewing its internal systems and procedures.

Meanwhile, Mook's successor, Erin Gore, explained the exits to staffers last week.

  • “The Board of Directors, including José, were first made aware of [Kilcoyne’s] misconduct during the final stages of the investigation and his subsequent termination,” Gore wrote in an email obtained by Bloomberg. “They were deeply concerned and alarmed with the findings and that this behavior happened within WCK.”

The other side: Mook told Bloomberg he was “disappointed” with WCK's characterization of his departure.

  • "I proactively ordered an investigation into Tim Kilcoyne and I immediately fired him upon conclusion of this investigation, which is the first time I learned of the allegations of sexual harassment," Mook tells Axios in an email, describing how he launched mandatory anti-harassment training and instituted a code of conduct. “I take reports of sexual harassment very seriously and worked hard to create a safe working space.”
  • Kilcoyne did not comment on the allegations to Bloomberg and did not respond to an email from Axios.

What they're saying: "We have grown very rapidly in four years, delivering hundreds of millions of meals in some of the most difficult situations on the planet, and our leadership team is focused on managing the next phase of all WCK operations," Wilder says. "We remain committed to the well-being of our staff and volunteers, as well as the people we are feeding, no matter how challenging the conditions.”

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