The red carpet was a steady stream of celebrities and VIPs at Manhattan’s SVA Theater on the night of May 3, each of them eager to see the world premiere of We Feed People, a new documentary about chef José Andrés and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen. Distributed by National Geographic Documentary Films, the project was conceived and directed by Oscar-winning director Ron Howard and will be released May 27 on Disney+.
Former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in attendance, with her daughter Chelsea Clinton, as were numerous actors and comedians, including Stephen Colbert, Drew Barrymore, Richard Gere, Steve Buscemi and Liev Schreiber. Culinary celebrities from Rachael Ray to Eric Ripert also joined for the screening, which was followed by a discussion moderated by Top Chef host and author Padma Lakshmi.
“I am here for one simple reason,” announced Andrés, the Spain-born chef behind ThinkFoodGroup’s nearly 30 restaurants, including Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner Bazaar Meat in Las Vegas. “That is to make sure food is an agent of change.” The documentary chronicles Andrés’ 12-year journey building World Central Kitchen from a grassroots effort to deliver food in crisis zones to a highly efficient global humanitarian organization in the disaster relief sector.
“Serving one humble plate of food is a powerful beginning,” said Andrés, who was recently in Ukraine. “I believe big problems can have very simple solutions.”
Andrés founded World Central Kitchen in January 2010 when he arrived in Haiti to serve food on the front lines after a catastrophic earthquake. Convinced of the urgency to provide more support in disaster zones—and able to sidestep the red tape and bureaucracy that too often hampers government relief efforts—Andrés and his team have since delivered meals in crisis areas around the world, from Madagascar, North Carolina and Navajo Nation to Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and New York. The organization expanded dramatically at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation donated $250,000 to WCK in 2020.
During the post-premiere Q&A, held at Andrés’ Mercado Little Spain in Hudson Yards, Howard explained that he’d started with more than 1,000 hours of footage inherited from existing documentaries, then had his own crew follow Andrés for more than a year. Howard was most surprised by WCK’s humble start: “José really turned up with good intentions and a credit card.”
Andrés shared some of the lessons he’s learned along the way. It’s critical, he explained, to be nimble and to adapt, as every disaster and culture requires a unique, creative approach. “In the early days, we would show up days after a disaster, but now we know we need to be there five days before the hurricane hits,” he said, adding that all logistics credit goes to WCK CEO Nate Mook, who is featured in the film and attended the premiere.
The film spotlights some of the thousands of individuals who have joined WCK’s effort, and the way food brings people together, said Howard. “It’s a film about volunteerism; people giving but also gaining from that activism.”
WCK’s ongoing humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine is not included in the film, but is dominating the organization's current efforts: WCK has set up 800 shelters in 100 cities, delivering 350,000 meals a day—more than 18 million to date. Providing refugee support and nourishment in Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, the organization’s Ukraine refugee response has involved partnerships with more than 350 restaurants.
“I have learned there are many ways to fight,” said Andrés of war-torn regions. “We are food fighters, one plate at a time.”