Last October, while his nonprofit World Central Kitchen was feeding hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria, the celebrity chef got into a spat with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
At that time, Andrés’s organization had already delivered more than two million hot meals through short-term contracts with the agency. FEMA told BuzzFeed that Andrés sought a longer-term contract, and that he was frustrated about “what he viewed as bureaucracy getting in the way.” Andrés denied this, saying he simply needed more advance notice about short-term contracts, for planning purposes. “I didn’t put the word ‘emergency’ in FEMA. They need to ask themselves what’s the definition of ‘emergency.’ The definition of that to me is feeding people now.”
Andrés criticism of FEMA has been validated by a New York Times report on Tuesday that the agency awarded a massive contract—30 million meals for $156 million—to Tiffany Brown, “an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in large-scale disaster relief and at least five canceled government contracts in her past.” Predictably, her one-woman company, Tribute Contracting LLC, didn’t deliver: “By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required ‘self-heating meals.’” FEMA then terminated the contract.
FEMA claims that, to quote the Times, “no Puerto Ricans missed a meal as a result of the failed agreement with Tribute. FEMA relied on other suppliers that provided ‘ample’ food and water for distribution, said William Booher, an agency spokesman.” One of those unnamed suppliers surely was Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, which has delivered at least three million hot meals on the island for a fraction of the cost of Tribute’s contract.