At one point in the last decade, my investment in mega-chef José Andrés has ceased to be about visiting one of its many revered restaurants in one day and becoming more about winning a Nobel Peace Prize in one day. .
Andrés’ unlikely transition from the culinary brain to the first culinary response is central We feed peopleRon Howard’s most recent documentary collaboration with National Geographic Documentary Films after 2020 Rebuilding Paradise. The Oscar-winning director has quietly become a curious and solid ultra-mainstream documentary filmmaker – Ron Howard of documentaries, indeed – and We feed people continue that journey. She captures enough of the methodology behind Andrés’ trajectory to be consistently interesting and is pragmatic enough not to be exclusively adorable.
We feed people
An inspiring, albeit neat, portrait of a remarkable man.
Training required: José Andrés was raised and trained in Spain, including three years at the legendary outpost of modernist cuisine, El Bulli. He came to the United States and, in just a few years, made a name for himself as one of the most interesting chefs, first in Washington, DC, and then across the country. He ran and then owned a number of popular restaurants, wrote best-selling cookbooks, and became an almost ubiquitous presence on food television.
In 2010, after the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, Andrés founded World Central Kitchen, an organization dedicated to feeding civilians in the aftermath of various disasters. He later traveled the world in response to humanitarian crises, including Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, volcanic eruptions in Guatemala, and, most recently, the aftermath of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine.
It would be easy and perhaps even fair for Howard to treat Andrés as a Gourmet Avenger, who travels around the world disinterestedly bringing paella to those in need, all while engaging on various social media platforms. And I’m some of that. Andrés is a gregarious personality, endlessly telegenic, with a telegenic wife and three telegenic daughters, and they are all full of stories, usually with video documentation at home, about Andrés’ approach to anything. The worst thing you’ll hear from someone in the documentary about Andrés is that sometimes his daughters have to check Twitter to find out where he is at some point.
But having altruistic intentions and having an altruistic idea are not the same thing as executing, and the things that Howard and his team are most interested in documenting are many steps between wanting to do good in the world and actually doing it. thing. Yes, this is a documentary about a heroic man, but it is much more a documentary about the bureaucracy of compassion.
It starts with the lessons Andrés learned in Haiti, which could be reduced to “Cook the beans that people want to eat, not the beans you want to make,” but more broadly, it’s something like “Every need situation is different and presents different challenges and you have to be prepared to adapt.”
Andrés may be at the center of the story, but Howard is careful to give enough time to figures like WCK CEO Nate Mook, the man who has to carry out Andrés’ ambitious plans, as well as countless field workers and repairers – the people in charge of supply the flooded roads and set up functional kitchens in the middle of the rubble – and various local chefs who saw, through Andrés’ growing infrastructure, opportunities to do good.
“We need to try to create systems where people take responsibility for their own situation and their own problems,” says Andrés at one point, one of several references to systemic change, rather than the more conventional charity he seeks to implement it.
Howard does a good job of describing how hard this life that Andrés has chosen is, and there are some visions of the effects it has on him. Andrés is treated here as an adorable bear, one who delivers picnic baskets instead of stealing them, but is not immune to temper tantrums. There are some illustrations of how, in the process of doing things, he might lose track of social subtleties. Some indications of extreme abusive behavior are presented here, though nothing to surprise anyone who reads them. Confidential kitchen. The chefs are in love and don’t say that Howard has to blow up every exposed nerve, but he certainly leaves some uncommented things that some viewers would like to discuss.
There are also indications of tensions between Andrés / WCK and more traditional disaster relief organizations. Because I’m interested in the detail-oriented part of what Andrés is doing, questions about when he may or may not be associated with something like the Red Cross or Amnesty International deserve to be explored. There is a feeling that some types of institutions might view Andrés as a threat, which may play a role in some tabloid articles accusing him of being a hustler and pocketing donated money. Andrés denies these allegations and no such substantive allegations have been made, but the questions come from where such accusations come from and why they are worth asking.
We feed people it is exciting and inspiring and, in 90 minutes, it does not exceed its welcome. Perhaps a longer and more messy version of the story could be even more enriching, but Howard’s tendency is toward order. What if this documentary does nothing but show people the ambitious work that Andrés is doing before he gets that Nobel Prize? Not bad.