José Andrés Considers Himself 'One More Volunteer' In World Central Kitchen Efforts

·4 min read
Ron Howard, Jose Andres
Ron Howard, Jose Andres

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for National Geographic

Impossible is not in José Andrés' vocabulary.

In Ron Howard's new Disney+ documentary, We Feed People, part of National Geographic Documentary Films, he chronicles the evolution of Andrés' nonprofit World Central Kitchen (WCK) since its start in 2010. Howard tells PEOPLE he wanted to capture "Andrés' charisma,'' but that the core message surrounds his "boots on the ground problem-solving."

"[World Central Kitchen] demonstrates that people who apply their own common sense, their own experience, something that they know something about to a situation, can really move the needle and make things happen," says Howard at the film's New York premiere.

Andrés, a Spanish-American chef who founded WCK after serving food in Haiti in the wake of a disastrous hurricane, follows a "one plate of food at a time," mantra. While he spearheads efforts to deliver 70 million meals to those in need around the globe, the 52-year-old still works side-by-side with thousands of volunteers.

"Remember, I am one more volunteer," he tells PEOPLE.

He credits his service in the Spanish Navy for informing his eventual role in the global nonprofit. "I learned the power of bringing a group of people together to try to move a ship against winds and against currents, but always trying to take it to safety of a good port. And [through WCK], what you see is in a very simple way, in the middle of chaos, in the middle of mayhem, trying to organize a response with whatever we have around us," he says.

We Feed People pays homage to those people who put their lives aside to feed others. Everywhere the nonprofit travels, the team "activates the people that know how to feed better," from restaurant workers to farmers, says Andres. "We become one and in the process very much, we can take care of any big problem."

Ron Howard, Jose Andres, padma lakshmi
Ron Howard, Jose Andres, padma lakshmi

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for National Geographic

RELATED: Russian Missile Strikes, Destroys Chef José Andrés' World Central Kitchen Hub in Kharkiv, Ukraine

The humanitarian chef's work continues as WCK has been aiding Ukrainian families amid the country's ongoing Russian invasion. In these efforts alone, Andrés says the nonprofit has set up over 450 restaurants and is on their way to serving 20 million meals to Ukrainians, making between 300 to 400 thousand meals per day.

"The very small organization with less than 80 people on payroll has shown up in Ukraine with the force of the bigger organizations," he says.

In April, one of WCK's own hubs was struck by a missile in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Despite the tragic setback, which injured four of his own, Andrés and his team continued to persevere — his crew began cooking four days later in another location.

RELATED: José Andrés's World Central Kitchen Is Making 10,000 Sandwiches a Day for Ukrainian Refugees

RELATED: Chef José Andrés Sets Up World Central Kitchen on Ukraine-Poland Border to Feed Refugees

"When I arrived Kyiv, I remember still the bombs were falling down in north of the city. In some of the shelters…where we had teams feeding, the bombs were hitting not too far away," he says. "That's the reality. Missiles keep falling in places like Lviv that you feel you are safe…but nobody is safe."

Andrés remains modest about WCK's efforts.

"What we do is really not so complex. We find the kitchens, we find the helpers, which always are there. We find the food," he says. "We find the people that need that food that need us to show up and we find ways to bring it to them. Maybe by truck, maybe by little planes, maybe by amphibious vehicles, maybe by helicopter, maybe by ship. But we always find a way to reach the people that are in need of a plate of food."

Howard adds that Andrés' humanitarian service in Ukraine "just reinforces that idea that where there's a will, there's a way," which he captures in the film.  "With will, is follow-through. And impossible is not a word that he yields to."

Andrés says even small actions of good can create a ripple effect.

"The big problems, actually, they have very simple solutions," he says. "One day you pick up a piece of paper out of the street of your city. Maybe you think that you did nothing, but I'm sure somebody was watching. And maybe without realizing, you inspire others to do exactly like you."

"Sometimes I feel we are a bandaid," he adds, "but sometimes to heal a wound, a bandaid is all you need."

We Feed People starts streaming May 27 on Disney+.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting