On the surface, it may seem like Chef José Andrés’ story would have little bearing on people whose main jobs are to handle logistics and run distribution operations. But the longer the founder of World Central Kitchen spoke at the keynote session for day two of ProMat 2023, the clearer the connection between the two became.
A Spanish chef and restauranteur, Andrés started World Central Kitchen as a nonprofit devoted to providing meals to survivors in the wake of disasters. Andrés and his staff have helped tap into local resources and cooks to serve hundreds of thousands of meals in places such as Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Turkey after the recent earthquakes, and ongoing operations during the war in Ukraine. A huge part of preparing those meals, of course, depends on excellent situational logistics.
Peppered among his stories of operating in disaster zones, Andrés offered the following advice for working in volatile conditions:
1. Don’t wait for perfection to start. Andrés’ relief efforts often begin small with what they can find immediately and then build up organically as they go. “We don’t wait to be perfectly organized to start providing our relief,” he explained. “We begin organizing as we begin relief. We gather intelligence and knowhow as we go.”
2. The ability to adapt is more important than the ability to plan. According to Andrés, World Central Kitchen has never had two missions that have followed the same pattern. “This has a lot to do with how we run our operations,” he said. “Do we plan, or do we adapt? If we plan for every possibility and we train our teams to follow a plan, what happens the day that nothing goes to plan?”
Instead of freezing when events don’t go according to plan, Andrés says it’s important to view the disruptions as an opportunity to learn and shine. “Embrace the complexity of the moment,” he said.
He gives the example of the day before Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans, when trucks with supplies for the World Central Kitchen operations were not able to get through. Andrés used that opportunity to discover and connect with local food distribution centers that were less than a mile away from where his kitchens were.
3. Empower your people. In emergency situations, it is critical to have a flat organization, where the people closest to the problem are empowered to make decisions. “Otherwise you are always waiting for the boss,” he said. “You have as thousand questions, and they all end in the same place.”
4. Be clear about your mission. Undergirding everything that World Central Kitchen does is a simple, central purpose that unites all its people: Feed the hungry, and provide water to the thirsty. This philosophy extends to the warehousing and logistics operations Andrés works with. “I tell them, your mission is not filling up the warehouse so that you can provide support to all our kitchens, your mission is feeding people right now,” he said.
Andrés spoke at ProMat 2023, industry association MHI's biennial trade show.