A Federal Emergency Management Agency official is accusing a celebrity chef of trying to “promote his business” after he criticized the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria.
Michelin-starred chef Jose Andres and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen have helped cooked and distribute more than two million meals to Puerto Ricans. They are now in a public feud with the Trump administration.
Andres landed on the island five days after the hurricane wreaked destruction on the Caribbean island. He built a network of kitchens and supply chain system that have provided more than 2.2 million meals, often at a rate of 150,000 meals a day, to starving Puerto Ricans. No other agency, including the Salvation Army or even the Red Cross, has fed more people freshly cooked, nourishing food since the hurricane.
At one point, Andres also hurt his knee while he was helping the National Guard deliver 150 whole chickens to remote parts of the island. While attempting to deliver rice, Andres fell into the river, banging his knee. He, however, did not let the rice get wet.
“José Andrés is a hero,” said lawyer and Democratic donor Andres Lopez, who worked with the chef. “He came to Puerto Rico during our darkest hour, rolled up his sleeves, and did what no one else was able or willing to do at the time: he fed the people. And in so doing, he gave everyone hope.”
Lately, however, the Washington, D.C.-based chef, who regularly posts the progress his team makes on Twitter, seems frustrated with the federal government.
We are feeding the National Guard because they need hot meals and proud of it but Federal Goverment will not help us.........? pic.twitter.com/1CJGlRMM2W— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) October 13, 2017
Andres has called FEMA’s headquarters “the most inefficient place on earth” and stated the organization is being very negligent of the starving hurricane victims.
During a press conference about the food crisis in Puerto Rico, Andres gave details of his plan to further feed the victims with resources on the island and once again criticized FEMA.
“The first disaster was natural. The second disaster was manmade by clear lack of leadership,” he said.
Andres said he was pleased with the efforts of World Central Kitchen and its 400 volunteers but he wishes to do more.
“We could be doing half a million [meals],” he says in a video. “Sometimes the federal government is not here to serve the people that they are supposed to serve.”
“I didn't put the word 'emergency' in FEMA. They need to ask themselves what's the definition of 'emergency.' The definition of that to me is feeding people now,” he told BuzzFeed.
The celebrity chef’s comments have infuriated Marty Bahamonde, the director of the FEMA disaster operations division, who said Andres was just trying to self-promote. Bahamonde called Andres a “colorful guy who gets a lot of exposure” and “a businessman looking for stuff to promote his business.”
Bahamonde said Andres signed two short-term contracts for $11.5 million to prepare food for the victims but was unhappy with FEMA for not giving him a $30 million long-term contract to aid Puerto Ricans.
However, Andres dispute this and said he told FEMA short term contracts were OK with him so long as the agency gave him advance notice to ensure he had enough food and resources.
FEMA officials gave him advance notice so that he could be sure he had enough food and resources.
“For them to say I was a businessman trying to make a buck, whoever said that should be very ashamed of themselves,” Andrés told BuzzFeed News.
This isn’t the first time the chef has clashed with the Trump administration. Andres planned to open a restaurant inside the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., but backed out in 2015 after the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump declared Mexico was sending “rapists” and “bad hombres” to the United States.
“How many people are out in the fields picking the produce I serve in my restaurants?” he asked a friend. “You know how many customers I have who are Mexican? I would never live with myself to know that I’m associating myself with somebody who demeans them in that way.”
After he pulled out, Trump sued for breach of contract. Andres countersued stating the foul-mouthed billionaire mogul’s rhetoric was making it impossible for him to hire workers. Earlier this year, the case was settled and the two sides reportedly parted amicably.
Looks like that amicability has just come to an end.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: REUTERS, Alvin Baez