José Andrés, the award-winning chef and food philanthropist, is mourning the deaths of seven aid workers from his nonprofit World Central Kitchen, who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip on April 1. 

The airstrike killed aid workers from Australia, Gaza, Poland, and the U.K. as well as a Canadian/U.S dual citizen, sparking global fury and an uncharacteristic climb-down from Israel. In the aftermath, Biden warned Israel that U.S support depends on a crackdown in efforts to protect civilians and aid workers. Israel took the rare step of admitting a “serious mistake” and firing two senior officers involved following an investigation into the strike.  

The convoy had “unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza” on the group’s sea route, the kitchen wrote in a statement, and had fully complied with Israeli military authorities who were aware of their itinerary, route, and humanitarian mission. All of their convoys are back in Cyprus and all operations in Gaza have been paused for now, a World Central Kitchen spokesperson told Fortune.

It marks quite an evolution for Andrés, who immigrated to the U.S in 1991 and settled in Washington, D.C., becoming a fixture of its fine dining scene. He set up several avant-garde and award-winning restaurants over the years, en route to becoming a U.S citizen in 2013. But now he gets calls from the White House about the political situation in the Middle East and around the world.

Following the attack, President Joe Biden called Andrés and released a statement, saying he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the workers’ deaths, and offering his “deepest condolences.” Biden has been increasingly pressuring Israel and breaking with Netanyahu of late, saying the state has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians. The killing of the aid workers was directly followed by Biden telling Netanyahu that “reaching an immediate cease-fire” in exchange for the estimated 100 remaining hostages still held in Gaza is “essential.” As of yesterday, a Hamas official said there has been no progress in Gaza cease-fire talks, Reuters reported

These extraordinary events beg the question: How did a 54-year-old Spanish-born celebrity chef with two Michelin stars to his name become such a major player in international politics?

Building political influence

Andrés’s kitchen began delivering food aid in Gaza in March, and has facilitated humanitarian food aid since 2010. The chef was named one of Time‘s 100 Most Influential People in 2012 and in 2018, he was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as humanitarian of the year. Earlier this year, Andrés’s work won him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination from Democratic representatives including former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

Andrés’s vision for World Central Kitchen was to create a “means for feeding the many” in disaster zones, according to the group’s website, and he hasn’t shied away from the “responsibility of both culinary ambassador and immigrant representing two nations.”

A key moment was the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed over 222,500 people. Andrés has written and talked about how he learned to prepare black beans the way many Haitians prefer—mashed and sieved into a creamy sauce—and took it as a lesson in connecting with people over food. In an interview with The View, Andrés said this “life-changing trip” laid the groundwork for what became more than a decade of philanthropic efforts. He described the moments he spent listening to Haitians and making “them happy by pureeing the beans and making the black bean sauce that goes next to the rice.”

He spent the next seven years focused on long-term food resilience programs in the Caribbean and Central America. His work gained the attention of former President Barack Obama, who awarded him the National Humanities Medal for his work in Haiti in 2015. 

That year, Andrés was also roped into a two-year legal battle with the soon-to-be President Donald Trump, who sued Andrés for $10 million over a restaurant deal that Andrés shuttered after Trump made racist comments about Mexicans, blaming them for America’s drug and crime issues. 

In 2017, Andrés lit the gas burners again when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, and a month later, traveled to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane María “on the first commercial flight to San Juan” after the storm, according to the kitchen. About 3,000 people were killed by the hurricane, and the kitchen served nearly 4 million fresh meals in the aftermath of María. 

Andrés was soon at the center of a political firestorm again. In 2018, about a year after the hurricane hit Puerto Rico and amid widespread reporting of the Trump administration’s slow or lacking response to the disaster, former President Donald Trump rejected the official death toll, without evidence, in a series of posts on Twitter (now X). Andrés responded by slamming Trump in his own posts on X, stating, “you are the face of ‘No shame.’” 

With Biden, things have taken another turn. In 2022, Andrés persuaded Biden to hold a White House conference on hunger, nutrition, and health, the first of its kind held since 1969. 

In his most recent phone call with Biden, Andrés said the “U.S. must do more to tell Prime Minister Netanyahu this war needs to end now,” according to the World Central Kitchen spokesperson. Biden has called the war in Gaza “one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed.” Still, he has been approving weapons sales, including the transfer of thousands of bombs to Israel on the same day the aid workers were killed, the Washington Post reported

The White House did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment. 

‘Food is a universal human right’

Days after the death of his organization’s aid workers, Andrés reiterated World Central Kitchen’s mission in a New York Times op-ed, saying it’s based on the belief that “food is a universal human right,” and that it’s “not conditional on being good or bad, rich or poor, left or right.”

His kitchen has been in Gaza since March, with the intent to bring food aid to starving people in northern Gaza via a maritime corridor from Cyprus. He kick-started the journey after Israel refused to let the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency deliver food to the area, claiming its agency staff had taken part in the Oct. 7, 2023 attack on southern Israel, Reuters reported

After the aid convoy was hit, World Central Kitchen on Thursday called for an independent investigation of the strike, which occurred in a “deconflicted zone,” an area the military cooperates on to reduce accidents, and involved multiple strikes that targeted three World Central Kitchen vehicles, all marked with the kitchen’s logo. Netanyahu initially issued an apology for the attack, stating “Israel deeply regrets the tragic incident which claimed the lives of seven humanitarian aid workers,” while adding that it’s the kind of thing that “happens in war.” 

According to an internal probe published by the Israel Defense Forces on Friday, the strikes on the aid convoy were “in serious violation of the commands and IDF Standard Operating Procedures.” The mistake occurred after Israeli forces mistakenly assumed that gunmen were in the vehicles.  

Andrés isn’t done calling for political action. In the New York Times op-ed, he called on the Israeli government to “open more land routes for food and medicine today.”

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