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‘This is an emergency’: José Andrés to open relief kitchen for federal workers during shutdown

Celebrity chef Jose Andres opened a new location for his World Central Kitchen in downtown Washington, D.C. for federal workers affected by the shutdown. (Video: Ashleigh Joplin, Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post)

José Andrés, chef, restaurateur and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, will focus his humanitarian efforts on his hometown this week, when his nonprofit organization launches a relief kitchen to feed furloughed federal workers in Washington.

The decision to open a food kitchen only steps away from the White House and the U.S. Capitol is both practical and symbolic, Andrés said during a phone interview from Puerto Rico today.

Practically, the free #ChefsforFeds kitchen will feed federal workers and their families during the partial government shutdown, now in its fourth week. In this sense, the operation in downtown Washington will not be too far removed from the food relief that World Central Kitchen — the organization that Andrés launched after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti — has offered in Puerto Rico, Houston, Florida, North Carolina, Tijuana, Guatemala and other locales where people have suffered after natural or man-made disasters.

“I believe it’s an emergency,” Andrés told The Washington Post about the partial federal shutdown. “I believe these people are going to be suffering, and we are a food relief organization.”

But on another level, the relief kitchen on Pennsylvania Avenue NW — the site is currently a test kitchen for the chef’s ThinkFoodGroup, which is donating the space for the cause — is a symbolic display designed to spark political dialogue to end the shutdown, which is in its 24th day. In a Twitter video announcing the D.C. initiative, Andrés said he hoped the kitchen would motivate the government to act.

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“I hope it will be a call to action to our senators and congressmen, and especially President Trump, to make sure that we end this moment in the history of America, where families are about to go hungry,” Andrés said. “We should always come together as we the people, as Americans, bipartisan.”

In the interview with The Post, Andrés said his relief kitchen “sends a message that we’re here for the people. It sends a message that our leaders should come together and find common ground.”

As such, Andrés said, he will institute a policy for any politician who tries to turn the #ChefsforFeds kitchen into a grandstanding opportunity. World Central Kitchen, he said, will warmly accept any politico who wants to volunteer at the temporary kitchen, but only if he or she brings along someone from the opposite party. The other person must be someone “who doesn’t think like them,” Andrés emphasized.

Then again, some critics have accused Andrés of being the grandstander in this scenario.

“Sorry but I talk to many many one parent mothers with children and they are having a hard time already!” Andrés responded to the critic above.

The #ChefsforFeds kitchen will debut on Wednesday at 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, and it will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The volunteer chefs will not only have hot meals available for federal workers who show a government ID, but also ingredients and recipes for workers to take home to feed their families. The latter component is important to Andrés; he remembers being a child back in Spain when his own family was living paycheck to paycheck. The days near the end of the month could be tough, he recalled. They forced his mother to come up with creative way to reuse leftovers.

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“We’ve all been there,” Andrés said.

The #ChefsforFeds kitchen will not affect the sandwich giveaway for federal employees from 2 to 5 p.m. daily at Andrés’s restaurants, including Jaleo, Zaytinya and Oyamel. ThinkFoodGroup has been handing out 200 to 300 free sandwiches a day at each restaurant, Andrés said. He estimates that between food costs and labor, his restaurant group has so far spent more than $50,000 feeding government employees.

“I’ve been in business 25 years because of federal workers,” Andrés said. “The least I can do is be there for them when they need us.”

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