Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Yes, Chef…Building a Culinary Grassroots Network (Lunchtime Speaker)

October 2, 2023 @ 12:30 pm 1:50 pm

Let’s put on our chef’s hat and apron and dive into the Chef Corps, a global network of prominent culinary leaders who champion World Central Kitchen’s work providing fresh meals following crises. Laura Hayes manages and recruits chefs to join this program to make sure they are equipped to accelerate and amplify what WCK can accomplish when they arrive first to the frontlines.

Laura Hayes, World Central Kitchen


How WCK was created? 

  • WCK is headquartered in Washington, DC. Since its inception, WCK has served 300 million meals. 
  • WCK has provided meals in Ukraine, Turkey, Syria, Hawai’i, Albania, and many other countries/cities in 2023 alone. 
  • WCK’s mission: First to the front lines, providing meals to people impacted by disaster. Meals nourishing and culturally appropriated. 
  • Chef advocacy is needed in a world full of issues and emergencies.
  • Dignity when providing meals to people: People should get a restaurant quality meal in their darkest moment. All meals should be handled with respect and not messily created. 

2010 Haiti Earthquake Example

  • The disaster-feeding concept started with the 2010 Haiti earthquake. 
  • WCK visited a nutrition center for mothers and babies. We observed women holding babies while eating and there were no tables for them to sit down and eat. With the missing tables, the center wasn’t able to create a relaxed environment for the moms and babies. 
  • Once WCK secured the tables, they were able to provide weekly meals for mothers and babies and provided a safe space for people to eat. 
  • Lesson learned: Simple solutions can have a profound impact.
  • If people are hungry, feed them. If they’re thirsty, give them water. Set a table and invite people from all walks of life to eat and share a meal.

3 Strategies on how WCK handles disaster/humanitarian crisis 


  • Let the locals lead with hand-in-hand collaboration.
  • Work with local cooks and crew to serve culturally sensitive and appropriate meals for the people in need.
  • Jose Andres’ Black Beans and Haiti Story – included in the WCK cookbook
    • Lessons learned: Listen to the community, don’t tell people what you want, and act according to what you’ve been told when entering a new environment with a different culture. 
  • Why aren’t chefs and cooks the first responders during emergencies?
    • Chefs and cooks can work in a high-pressure environment and are trusted people in the community.
    • WCK chefs are ambassadors for the communities that they serve. If there’s an emergency in their town, they are the connector for the WCK team. 
  • Restaurants are fueled by immigrants.
    • WCK can talk to the staff to learn about the ongoing issues in the community
    • Ex: Immigrants are less likely to go to government shelters. Lean on workers to connect to people in need of meals from WCK.
  • WCK works with chefs who have a presence in their communities. 
  • WCK’s Chef Corps: Invite only network and all members are vetted before joining. 
  • Remember that chefs are still recovering from the pandemic, dealing with inflation, and still making time for causes they care about. 
  • Chef activists: the next generation of culinary activists to help elevate and support social issues. 
  • The secure connection between the chef-cause-attendee.
    • Ex: Diners want to spend their money at restaurants supporting local farmers, who are struggling with post-pandemic recovery.
  • At the table: A Chef’s Guide to Advocacy by Katherine Miller
    • People want to hear what chefs have to say. Harnessing their voice and power can be a powerful tool in the advocacy arsenal


  • The urgency of now, the concept inspired by Martin Luther King’s speech.
  • Ham and cheese sandwich: go to prepped meal when responding to an emergency. When WCK is assessing an emergency, WCK employees always prepare ham and cheese sandwiches when going out to sites. This establishes trust between WCK and the local community. 
  • The 2017 Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico
    • WCK was working to establish a line of food supply within hours of the emergency or even before to prepare for travel.
    • Chef Corps activated: members made the first round of calls to their local network on the ground to get a full-picture view of the disaster.


  • WCK is not a one-size-fits-all organization.
  • WCK has taken steps to be more prepared but can adapt on the go when disaster strikes.
  • Adaptation is part of a chef’s skill and is crucial when dealing with disaster responses. This sets WCK apart from other organizations since the nature of each disaster is different.
  • In an emergency, WCK hires local cooks, dishwashers, and translators to help with the transition and immediate responses.
  • WCK works with local partners to establish a fair economic system with meals to help stimulate the local economy. Ex: Put a price on a meal and use the money to pay for the local crew’s labor. 
  • Food trucks: emergency feeding vehicles since they don’t need electricity to cook food, unlike restaurants. WCK has a fleet of food trucks. 

Questions and Answers 

How does WCK know when to leave?

  • Departure depends on several factors and indicators. 
  • WCK has a list of questions/indicators before deciding when to depart.
    • Ex: Have schools reopened? Have groceries and restaurants reopened? Have prices stabilized? When can people cook for themselves again?

Best practices when working with other partners

  • Transparency, openness, and collaboration are key. WCK works with organizations that share similar values. 

How does WCK collect data?

  • Since WCK is funded by donors and corporations, we have a responsibility to collect comprehensive data. Our teams work with local restaurants and use their data to better assess the situation on the ground during an emergency.


October 2, 2023
12:30 pm – 1:50 pm
Event Category:
Event Tags: