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José Andrés wins 2020 Basque Culinary World Prize

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The Spanish American chef is rewarded for his outstanding effort to feed people in need during the Covid-19 pandemic, as Tina Nielsen reports

José Andrés has been awarded the prize in recognition of his World Central Kitchen (WCK) project’s vital work during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has also seen the non-profit organisation go global as it extended to Spain, where local chefs set up local WCK kitchens.

The chef was chosen for providing a global and collaborative response from gastronomy to the most pressing challenge of our time: the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Basque Culinary World Prize (BCWP), now in its fifth year, is a €100,000 award for chefs around the world whose work has transformed society through gastronomy, and is awarded by the Basque Culinary Centre (BCC), a world leading gastronomic institution, and the Basque Government. Andrés follows in the footsteps of previous winners, including Anthony Myint from the US, Australia-based Jock Zonfrillo and Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa.

This year the response of the gastronomic community to the pandemic was central to the judging panel’s deliberations.

“A year like 2020 has put us to the test and so the Basque Culinary World Prize highlights how the sector had an important part to play in the midst of an unprecedented crisis,” says Joxe Mari Aizega, director general of the BCC. “Chefs understood that they could harness their knowledge, leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity to help society in different ways.”

A titanic effort

The winner is chosen by a panel of some of the world’s most influential chefs, chaired by Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca. The jury said Andrés symbolised the efforts made by chefs around the world to the challenges posed by the crisis and embodied the collaborative action needed during such testing times

“In view of this year’s exceptional circumstances, our responsibility had to rise to the current challenges. After an intense process of reflection, we wanted to focus the award on the challenge facing the entire planet due to Covid-19­– a challenge that chef José Andrés has faced with courage, bravery and a titanic effort,” says Roca.

“His admirable dedication to work, his ability to deal with humanitarian crises and his present and evident leadership have served as a source of inspiration for many people who have joined its World Central Kitchen initiative around the world. It’s a project that has also made visible the work of volunteers who have turned gastronomy into a strong social tool.”

When the pandemic started to take hold across the world in March, Andrés and the WCK team acted decisively to organise and ensure that those in need would continue to eat during a very challenging time.

During the virtual press conference making the announcements, Andrés accepted the prize but made a point of saying that the prize is not for him, but the whole WCK team. “If it was about me I would have called it the José Andrés Foundation, but it isn’t about me,” he said. “So many chefs from all over the world have contributed to the work of WCK.”

Message of equality

Of course, Andrés has been admired across the world for some time now, having established WCK 10 years ago. He is known and respected across the world for important work in feeding people caught up in natural disasters in countries, including Haiti and Puerto Rico, and has mobilised thousands of volunteers.

His advocacy work on social issues and immigration reform along with a message of equality, diversity and fairness has earned him fans well beyond the foodservice sector and across the world. He has been shortlisted for the BWCP twice in previous years and has been named among Time Magazine’s most influential people.

He is so well known for his social efforts that it is easy to forget that he continues to be the owner of a successful chain of restaurants in the US, under the banner of Think Food group.

Special recognition awards

Chefs across the world have stepped up to the challenge of responding to exceptionally difficult times, yet again showing that the world of gastronomy has real power to make a change for the better – and that those working in the sector are first to put their hand up when help is needed.

For this reason for 2020 the BWCP has also introduced a series of special recognition awards going to chefs  who have embarked on efforts to make a difference beyond the kitchen as Covid-19 continued its spread.

“The pandemic has highlighted the contributions of our sector in its entirety, so it was not enough to announce just one winner, but to recognise, with the 10 special recognitions, the performance of exemplary professionals who have used their knowledge, creativity and will to influence in society, making the best use of the transformative capacity of gastronomy,” says Aizega.

The projects that have been recognised range from feeding London school children who would normally receive free school meals and working to create a more diverse workforce in the US, to offering support for the residents of Brazil’s favelas and providing vulnerable children in sub-Saharan Africa with nutritious food.

The full list of the recipients of the special recognition awards is:

  • Elijah Amoo Addo, Food for All Afrika, Ghana
  • Mariana Aleixo, Maré de Sabores, Brazil
  • Greg Baxtrom, Olmsted, US
  • Simon Boyle, Beyond Food, UK
  • Tracy Chang, Off Their Plate, US
  • Ghetto Gastro, US
  • David Hertz, Gastromotiva, Brazil
  • Ed Lee, Initiative, US
  • Juan Llorca, Por Una Escuela Bien Nutrida, Spain
  • Nicole Pisani, Chefs for Schools, UK

During the presentation, Andrés acknowledged that his organisation has reached a different level in its development and announced that rather than keep the prize money for WCK, he wished to share the €100,000 between the 10 special recognition awards. “With the blessing of the BCC and the judging panel, I would like to share this prize with all the organisations being recognised today to help them continue their growth to become brilliant non-profits,” he said.

The BWCP jury is made up of:  
Joan Roca (El Cellar de Can Roca), Ferrán Adrià (El Bulli Foundation), Mauro Colagreco (Mirazur), Gastón Acurio (Acurio Restaurants), Manu Buffara (Manu), Dan Barber (Blue Hill Farm), Eneko Atxa (Azurmendi), Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn), Andoni Luis Aduriz (Mugaritz), Enrique Olvera (Pujol), Trine Hahnemann (Hahnemanns Køkken) and Yoshihiro Narisawa (Les Créations de Narisawa).

Tina Nielsen