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Cooking on the Frontlines with Chef José Andrés

He became a star feeding the fortunate—and a saint feeding the unfortunate. Now chef is working to balance his epic calling to respond to the world’s emergencies via World Central Kitchen with growing the restaurant empire he’s built along the way. We follow Andrés from his operations on the Ukraine border to his kitchens in Washington, D.C., and everywhere in between—and find something much more complex and interesting than a mere saint.

Maciej Mroczka is 42 years old and operates a food truck called Syty Wół, or “Satisfied Ox,” out of Łańcut, Poland, about 50 miles from the western border of Ukraine. Mroczka serves burgers and other sandwiches, like the Syty, which includes beef, bacon, arugula, and his own special sauce. In 2021 he was nominated for the European Street Food Awards. He is busiest from April to October, when he takes the truck on the road to festivals and other outdoor happenings.

“We are not afraid of mass events,” Syty Wół’s website boasts. “We are able to feed hundreds of people throughout the evening.”

In late February, Mroczka would get his chance to prove it. Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, word reached Łańcut of refugees coming through the border in nearby Korczowa. “People exhausted by the journey, people who were hungry and cold and who needed help,” Mroczka told me. “I decided that I would like to help, due to my experience. However, I did not know where exactly to go.”

As it happened, the phone rang. It was World Central Kitchen, the relief organization founded by Spanish American chef José Andrés for the express purpose of marshaling the energy and expertise of chefs and cooks in emergencies. Over the past decade, WCK has gone from the earnest sideline of a celebrity chef to a relief juggernaut, responding to some of the biggest crises of our time—the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the pandemic—and countless smaller ones, in the process turning Andrés into a humanitarian star. Though much smaller than behemoth relief organizations like the Red Cross, WCK has established an outsize footprint, in part because of its outsize leader, and in part because of its strategy of using local resources like restaurants, kitchens, cooks, and food trucks.

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