Review: Ron Howard Show ‘We Feed People’ Charity for DC Chef José Andrés

If you missed its domestic premiere at the DC Environmental Film Festival back in March, the inspiring new documentary “We Feed People” finally premieres on Disney+ on Friday.

WTOP’s Jason Fraley reviews ‘We Feed People’

If you missed his first domestic show in DC Environmental Film Festival Back in March, the inspiring new documentary “We Feed People” finally premiered on Disney+ on Friday.

That means the entire world can stream one of the year’s hottest movies, shaking each of us out of our daily slumber to ask what we’re doing for humanity.

Directed by Academy Award winner Ron Howard, the film chronicles the humanitarian efforts of celebrity chef Jose Andres, who grew out of DC restaurant fame for launching World Central Kitchen (WCK), to feed countless global citizens after natural disasters.

The movie begins with the devastation of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 2018. While transporting meals through flood waters, their boat capsizes while aluminum food trays sit precariously above the waterline. “Are we all swimmers here?” Andres asks, cares for his colleagues. When a reporter asks his name, he answers simply: “Jose.”

Enter the protagonist’s backstory, having trained in fine restaurants in Spain before moving to the capital in 1993 at the age of 23 to open the Spanish tapas restaurant Gallio. Journalist Richard Wolfe recalls, “There were a lot of people in the Washington establishment who saw him as cocky. Who was this Spaniard? He was big, ambitious, almost too old for his sons.”

We see his rise to celebrity fame, from David Letterman to Craig Ferguson, as he even hosts his own TV show. “The idea of ​​chefs as celebs was a new concept and Jose caught up on that wave,” says Carol Sugarman, a former food writer for The Washington Post. “There is a whole range of level of sexual obsession that celebrity chefs have. It has become more like a brand.”

Then his mission arrives. “Everyone always has a moment in their life when you get a call,” Andres says. During the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he was vacationing in the Cayman Islands and felt powerless to come close to him. “I’m watching those pictures of destruction. I was like, ‘Let’s go.’ It wasn’t like I was thinking I was going to help, it was like I was going to learn.”

His operation began humbly, feeding 250 people in Port-au-Prince, but Andres is humbled by having to make black beans the local way as a puree. “Despite the bruising of his ego, he knew you had to respect people,” says Wolf. “Food is about community, eat your way, not the way some egg savior thinks it should be cooked.”

We watch his nonprofit grow during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017. “The problem with [President Trump] Throwing in towels isn’t towels, it was a nice thing, the problem is that’s what comfort has become, let me throw you in the bones,” says Andres, as citizens write a chalk message on the street: “SOS WE NEED WATER AND FOOD!”

The film shows Andrés and WCK CEO Nate Mook taking their first flight to Puerto Rico and making paella to feed half a million people a day. Andres writes makeshift plans on the wall, saying, “Take care of the problem first, and then we’ll figure out how to pay for it. We’ve been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a day.” [without] dollars in the bank.

Like any good movie, we have to see the emotional loss. In the “all is lost” moment, the American Red Cross rejected his funding request. “FEMA is releasing more money, but it’s too slow. I’m asking for a million dollar line of credit that I don’t even have,” Andres said before tears of frustration and exhaustion broke down as he flew home to see the doctor.

Enter Howard’s elegies, “Andy Griffith” and “Happy Days,” to show the chef’s family ties. We see pressure on his three daughters: Ines lists selfies of strangers at a Dupont Circle farmer’s market, Lucia asks, “Why are you making yourself a hero?” Carlotta says, “People ask who cooks in the house? My father cooks, but my mother feeds the family.”

The glue that holds them together is his wife Patricia, who jokes, “People say, ‘You have three girls,’ and I say, ‘I have three girls and one boy!'” … he does what he does because I do what I do. He’s back to find a safe haven.” Behind every good man is a great woman, as Carlotta says, “My mom has a backpack ready for him at all times.”

He needs that bag when a volcano in Guatemala erupts in 2018. WCK not only provides disaster relief, but proactively builds a kitchen to provide food, clean water, electricity and communications in the event of future disasters. “When we leave … we need to make sure that what we leave behind continues to move forward on its own,” Andres says.

Not only is his non-profit organization developing, but the film industry is developing as well. After numerous archival news footage, Howard put a camera crew on the ground for Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas in 2019, aboard amphibious vehicles delivering food like pizza deliveries. “All the experiences of many years have somehow paid off in the Bahamas,” Andres says.

DC viewers will smile knowing that his global relief effort was launched by volunteering for Robert Egger of DC Central Kitchen in 1993. “Robert Egger taught me that philanthropy seems to be about redeeming the giver when philanthropy is about liberating the recipient,” Andres says. “We give too much to feel good about ourselves.”

The final chapter of the documentary shows Andres’ latest response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wearing a protective suit, he serves food to masked people on New York City’s streets and hospitals, as well as quarantined cruise ships in Japan and California. “We can be left without food very easily – we’ve seen that with COVID,” Andres warns.

In the end, it was left to viewers the idea of ​​creating a network of state restaurants to band together during emergencies. “José says we are making a model for the American government to feed the people,” his colleague says, and it pays off when then-candidate Joe Biden said, “They say you are doing God’s work. …If we follow your lead, we will get it done.”

After 90 minutes of inspiration through the worst disaster and gloom imaginable, Howard finally laughed his sleeve with an accidental moment caught on camera. When Andres turned to the camera in disbelief, he shot a cigar in his mouth and we cut it black.

“We Feed the People” feeds the souls of viewers.

4 stars