Photo of Brian MacNair and students courtesy World Central Kitchen
Photo of Brian MacNair and students courtesy World Central Kitchen

On June 7, Chef José Andrés will give Washingtonians permission to Dine-N-Dash at 30 area restaurants like Estadio, Del Campo, Colada Shop, and Lupo Verde. In its fifth year, the goal of the event is to raise $500,000 through ticket sales ($125 general admission, $400 for VIP). Participants choose a restaurant to start where they can redeem their tickets before progressing on to others, all of which will offer a gratis selection of 6 to 8 dishes and 4 to 6 drinks.

But where does the money go? An organization headquartered in D.C. that chips away at world hunger and poverty in Haiti, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Zambia, the Dominican Republic, and other countries by mobilizing a network of chefs that share Andrés’ passion.

World Central Kitchen was borne out of Andrés’leadership at DC Central Kitchen and his quick response to help Haiti after the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Andrés tapped Brian MacNair, who spent a decade working at DC Central Kitchen, to serve as executive director. Since he started in February 2013, MacNair has grown the work of the organization to focus on health, education, and job creation with the help of local partner organizations.

One of World Central Kitchen’s first projects, Haiti Breathes, falls under the health initiative and capitalizes on Andrés’ status as the culinary ambassador for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. “Four million people are dying due to complications from hard fuel like charcoalthat’s more than malaria and HIV combined,” MacNair says. That’s why World Central Kitchen has worked to replace charcoal-burning stoves in 100 Port au Prince school kitchens with stoves that run on liquid petroleum gas. Often this program is coupled with “Sink to Stove” training that teaches the basics of sanitation, cross contamination, and hand washing.

Take the Food for Thought initiative that falls under education, for example. In one of the poorest areas of Haiti, kids weren’t going to school because they had to help their parents gather food and water to make what’s often their only meal of the day. “You see 6-year-olds walking around with wood and water,” MacNair explains.

The Food for Thought program installs or renovates school kitchens and offers food safety training. “Just by having a meal at school, you’ll see increased attendance,” MacNair explains. At one school in the mountains, the student population bloomed from 30 to 160 kids, according to MacNair, who says he hopes to build 10 school kitchens per year over the next four years in Haiti. A similar project was carried out it Lusaka, Zambia, which also incorporated a revenue-generating bakery.

Finally, at a Port au Prince cooking school, World Central Kitchen works to provide culinary training to create a thriving hospitality workforce full of employees with increased earnings and improved quality of life with the help of the Haitian Government and Ministry of Tourism.

“We’re training chefs, high-quality prep cooks ready to work in hotels and the tourism industry,” MacNair explains. “We don’t want to train someone to cook better in their home.” World Central Kitchen provides an industrial teaching kitchen and has developed 24-week culinary curriculum. Seventy percent of students land jobs after graduation.

Photo of Victor Albisu courtesy World Central Kitchen

The work of World Central Kitchen also includes a couple of social enterprise projects, including setting up a bakery and a restaurant at Zamni Beni orphanage in Croix des Boquettes, Haiti. The Boulanjri Beni bakery created a handful of jobs and made $6,000 in profit in its first year of operation. The program inspired a fish restaurant called Pwason Beni that utilizes tilapia farmed on property. 

None of these projects would be possible without World Central Kitchen’s Chef Network that includes national names like Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Carla Hall, and Tom Colicchio, not to mention familiar D.C. faces like Del Campo‘s Victor Albisu, Maketto‘s Erik Bruner-Yang, Good Stuff Eatery’s Spike Mendelsohn, and Indique’s K.N. Vinod.

These chefs lend their expertise about how kitchens should be configured, how to teach food safety, and what should be included in curriculum to prepare job-ready cooks. 

MacNair says they’ve been taking the “Sink to Stove” program on the road. Albisu, for example, taught cooks in Cuzmapa, Nicaragua food safety, sanitation, and knife skills, and Bruner-Yang did the same in Cambodia. “We take four or five chefs around the world to different projects every year,” MacNair says. “No other organization has chefs on the ground doing work.”