Journalist and producer based in Spain working for UK press. My focus here is safe travel and tourism in Spain. I also cover current affairs, business, architecture and rural regeneration, and work / have worked for The Guardian, BBC, FT, The Times, Conde Nast Traveller, Business Life, Reader's Digest, Evening Standard.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced restaurants to close – but visionary chefs around the world have been busy using their powers for good. This year’s prestigious Basque Culinary World Prize (BCWP) recognising chefs who transform society through gastronomy, has been awarded to the Spanish-American chef José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen project which has mobilised chefs around the world in a collaborative response to the challenges brought about by COVID.
The jury, comprising many of the world’s most influential chefs and chaired by Joan Roca, also gave special recognition to a further ten chefs who have taken extraordinary action in their communities. Underlining the 2020 feeling of solidarity as well as the generosity of spirit that made him a winner in the first place, José Andrés has donated the €100,000 prize money to the ten.
José Andrés, who arrived in the US from Asturias, has always been aware of the role of food as an engine for social change. While establishing more than 30 restaurants across the US, he has worked tirelessly promoting immigration reforms and workplace improvements for the restaurant sector. In 2010 – the same year he lectured on culinary physics with Ferran Adrià at Harvard – Andrés founded WCK to change the world through the power of food. Using his influence, energy, and staying power to support humanitarian causes, WCK had already brought together thousands of volunteers and cooks and intervened in many countries, helping to create food resiliency in the face of disasters, notably in Haiti – and Puerto Rico where his team served over 3.6 million meals following Hurricane Maria.
During the pandemic the initiative has evolved into a global collaborative force of chefs across the world. When the spread of coronavirus began to escalate in March, José Andrés took action on both sides of the Atlantic. With the health crisis at its worst in Spain, WCK was running around 150 kitchens in 10 cities with the support of local chefs, food banks and the Red Cross facilitating access to food in regions facing shortages; managing solidarity kitchens in challenging contexts; re-establishing supply chains for small producers; providing direct support to restaurant staff as the industry’s workforce continues to struggle with the consequences of closed bars and restaurants; and for simply by setting an example of cooperation and responsibility.
Announcing the decision, Joan Roca said: “In view of this year’s exceptional circumstances, we wanted to focus the award on the challenge facing the entire planet due to COVID-19 – a challenge that chef Jose Andrés has faced with courage, bravery and a titanic effort. His admirable dedication to work, his ability to deal with humanitarian crises and his present and evident leadership have served as a source of inspiration for many people who have joined its World Central Kitchen initiative around the world.
“It’s a project that has also made visible the work of volunteers who have turned gastronomy into a strong social tool ”
Speaking via Zoom, José Andrés praised the Basque Culinary Centre for being a reference in the world of gastronomy, for highlighting the role that food plays in economy, health, national security, employment, society as a whole. “It’s through sitting around a table and sharing a meal with people that think differently that we realise we are not so different after all, and understand each other.”
Andrés was inspired by his parents who worked in the health system on the outskirts of Barcelona, and later, when he moved to Washington and opened his first restaurant by Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, whose first headquarters had been in the building opposite. “She went on to help thousands. I thought if nurses can help thousands of people in complicated times, chefs can do something too.
“What WCK does is listen to the people who need us so we can free them from the pressures and challenges of the system we live in. It’s not my prize, it is WCK’s. WCK has the participation of many chefs in Spain as well as Venezuela, Colombia, Puerto Rico – and other countries. I always say, ‘I feed a few but I want to feed many’. The ten chefs that have the received the special recognition will go on to become bigger and change the world in many different ways that we can not imagine now. So I would like the prize to be shared between them so they can each move forward and reach more people. There is no stopping now: I am committed to believing the world can be a better place.
“The pandemic has highlighted the contributions of our sector in its entirety,” said Joxe Mari Aizega, Director General of the Basque Culinary Centre, “so it was not enough to announce just one winner, but to recognise the performance of exemplary professionals who have used their knowledge, leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity to help society in different ways.”
Simon Boyle, Beyond Food, UK. Boyle founded the organisation in 2011 with the aim of helping people escape poverty through culinary training and rebuild their lives through food. As chef at social enterprise restaurant, Brigade, London, Boyle has focused his efforts on securing resources and food for vulnerable groups such as those living in shelters and homeless people in particular.
Nicole Pisani, Chefs in Schools, UK for providing food to disadvantaged young people while school canteens are closed. During the pandemic, children have been at risk of food insecurity or a lack of access to balanced and healthy eating, and Pisani has been focused on using the resources available to ensure children can still access and enjoy nutritious food. Her charity is working hand-in-hand with food-sharing and surplus-food charities and initiatives including Olio, The Felix Project and Magic Breakfast, as part of a huge network across London.
Mariana Aleixo, Maré de Sabores, Brazil, for her work in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. The programme provides cooking workshops and gastronomic services for the community including jobs for women and food at affordable price. During the pandemic, Maré de Sabores has had an important role in the favelas, serving as a food bank and providing solidarity meals with Aleixo leading and coordinating all work on food security, food management, preparation and distribution.
David Hertz of Gastromotiva / Social Gastronomy Movement, Brazil, for leading food banks and facilitating other initiatives in Brazil and Mexico. David created Gastromotiva in 2006 to help foster social inclusion through gastronomy. The organisation offers culinary training to young people and unites many different sectors of society around the transformative power of food. Now it works in partnership with more than 32 local organisations, a global network that brings together chefs to promote causes such as sustainable development, healthy eating and social inclusion through the power of food.
Elijah Amoo Addo, Food for all Afrika, Ghana. Amoo Addo is chef, social entrepreneur and founder of this organisation dedicated to recovering surplus food provided by supermarkets and restaurants and feeding vulnerable children in sub-Saharan Africa. With many people in Ghana dependent on the social cafes which are closed during the pandemic, he has been distributing meals through the Chefs on Wheels initiative. The closure of hotels, bars and restaurants in Ghana has affected up to 40% of the workforce and Elijah’s volunteering network has been critical in caring for children and young people in catering.
Juan Llorca, Por una Escuela bien Nutrida, Spain: Llorca moved from restaurant haute cuisine into the school sector in Valencia with the mission of revolutionising school meals. He has been assisting parents during lockdown by providing healthy, simple recipes for children via YouTube.
In the United States, as well as responding to the pandemic, each chef has been proactive in diversifying the gastronomy scene, challenging stereotypes and making kitchens more inclusive. They are:
Greg Baxtrom, Olmsted, US, for leading welfare drives in response to the pandemic. Baxtrom led the New York Hospitality Coalition to put pressure on the authorities in New York to respond to the pandemic. He transformed his Olmsted restaurant into a food bank and community support centre and, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, has offered his Maison Yaki restaurant space to black chefs, bartenders and entrepreneurs for the foreseeable future.
Ed Lee, Lee Initiative, US for inspiring community work on behalf of restaurant employees across the country. Lee is behind initiatives such as Restaurant Regrow offering immediate relief to Kentucky restaurants and food service workers affected by the Covid-19 crisis, and the Restaurant Workers Relief Program which has distributed 140,000 meals to unemployed workers in the catering industry with the help of local leaders in 19 cities in the United States.
Ghetto Gastro, US, a New York cooking collective founded by Jon Gray, Lester Walker, Malcolm Livingston II, and Pierre Serrao which combines art, music and social awareness with food – a unique creative space that promotes inclusivity.
Tracy Chang, Off Their Plate, US: Tracy is a chef and owner of the restaurant PAGU in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the majority of her employees are from immigrant backgrounds. During the coronavirus pandemic, she co-founded Off Their Plate, an initiative that aims to feed health and essential workers whilst trying to restore jobs and livelihoods of restaurant workers affected by the pandemic.
Chaired by Joan Roca (El Cellar de Can Roca), the jury also included renowned names within gastronomy such as Ferrán Adrià (El Bulli Foundation), Mauro Colagreco (Mirazur), Gastón Acurio (Acurio Restaurants), Manu Buffara (Manu), Dan Barber (Blue Hill Farm), Eneko Atxa (Azurmendi), Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn), Andoni Luis Aduriz (Mugaritz), Enrique Olvera (Pujol), Trine Hahnemann (Hahnemanns Køkken) and Yoshihiro Narisawa (Les Créations de Narisawa).
© Sorrel Downer 2020