In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, chef José Andrés is feeding those in need of a hot meal in New Orleans.
The celebrity chef and his not-for-profit organization World Central Kitchen (WCK) have been providing free meals to local residents after the Category 4 storm struck Louisiana over the weekend, leaving more than 1 million homes and businesses without power. The massive hurricane also resulted in heavy flooding and severe structural damage to many buildings.
According to WCK, Andrés and his team have served more than 50 million fresh meals to people around the world affected by natural disasters and other crises, and they made their way to Louisiana when they heard how hard the state was going to be hit by Hurricane Ida.
"We always try to move into the city, the region, before the hurricane hits," Andrés told TODAY's Al Roker on Tuesday morning.
In the aftermath of any massive storm, food insecurity is often a huge problem for local residents, and Andrés said his WCK crew has two goals in mind when they prepare to offer relief in these scenarios.
"For us, it's two things: Make sure that we have kitchens with generators and more important, that we have refrigerators full of food. That's why, hours after the hurricane leave(s) we are able to start cooking and more important, start looking for the communities and the people that need our help with food," he explained.
In the days leading up to any storm, people tend to stock up on food and supplies can be hard to find at grocery stores, so Al said he was impressed Andrés was able to scrounge up so much fresh food, especially fruit, beforehand.
"Fruit is not gonna be an issue for us for the next week. Why? Because you look for the local businesses, you look for the people that they are already waiting for you. You cannot call them, you cannot order online, you have to go to them," Andrés explained.
Andrés and the WCK rounded up plenty of fresh fruit, cheese and other foods so they'd be ready when the storm subsided. He said many local chefs have also stepped in to help.
"The chefs of New Orleans, the chefs of Louisiana, the chefs of America, the chefs of the world, they are always there for their communities," he told Al. "So many chefs, what they do when their refrigerator (or freezer) goes out, they share. They began coming to our (main kitchen) and began giving us the big loads of things they had in the freezer. So we are plenty ready with food."
Andrés isn't just planning to help out the folks in New Orleans: The chef and his crew are ready to assist residents throughout Louisiana.
"We already have kitchens ready to go if necessary, like (in) Baton Rouge. We always try to do not only one city but the entire area," he said.
The chef explained that the first few days after a hurricane are typically the most critical for local residents and said WCK wastes no time jumping into action.
"We always love to be (there) at the very beginning so we can have a very quick reaction," he said. "Food cannot wait. People must eat today, not next week, not next month."
Before heading to New Orleans and after recovering from a breakthrough case of COVID-19 (he's vaccinated and an advocate for getting the vaccine), Andrés was in Haiti with WCK feeding people impacted by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake.
Last week, his team helped provide free meals at Dulles Airport in Virginia for refugees fleeing Afghanistan.
In January, Andrés stepped in after the U.S. Capitol riots, delivering food to law enforcement officers and first responders. The restaurateur has also been a staunch supporter of other restaurant owners during the pandemic, which forced many establishments to shut their doors.
In addition to working with WCK to feed those most impacted by the pandemic around the world, the chef also turned his New York City and Washington, D.C. restaurants into takeaway kitchens in 2020. The idea was that customers could pay what they could afford for meals and/or pay it forward and donate a meal to others.
Later that year, Andrés and WCK traveled to Lebanon to feed residents after a massive explosion in Beirut displaced hundreds of thousands of people.