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José Andrés Wants the World to Cook with Sunlight and Biofuel

One of the least-discussed but most pressing issues in modern kitchens is their reliance on conventional but unsustainable fuels. World-renowned chef José Andrés is trying to change that, one solar cooker at a time.

by Hillary Eaton
May 18 2015, 8:30pm

Foto mit freundlicher Genehmigung von World Central Kitchen.

When planning their menus, designing their kitchens, and choosing their vendors, ethical chefs have to ask themselves: Is it OK to serve bluefin tuna? Do I want to support the local economy by only buying from small, local suppliers? What about using my restaurant concept to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents?

But while most of us are familiar with people examining the ethics of controversial foods like foie gras, your stove can be just as problematic. Alternative energy sources in the kitchen are one of the latest and most exciting intersections of technology and food, helping people to combat the use of unclean cooking methods, to go green and conserve gas and electricity, and to provide a much-needed resource to communities in need.

To get a better look at these new technologies and their ability to change the way cook, we caught up with José Andrés, one of the chefs at the forefront of the alternative energy, clean-cooking source movement.

MUNCHIES: Hi, José. When did you become aware of alternative energy sources for cooking? José Andrés: I began using solar cookers in 2005 or 2006, but it wasn't until the winter of 2010 when a huge snowstorm hit DC and knocked out all of our power [that] I first realized the power of these clean cookstoves. It was incredible to be able to cook meals for my family and people in the neighborhood by just using the power of the sun. Not long after that, as you know, the earthquake happened in Haiti, and I was desperate to go there and help. I went and brought 24 solar cookers, and we traveled to different places that we thought needed them. We started teaching people how they can make meals without electricity or gas using these clean cooking technologies. And I saw that they worked.

Over the years I became more and more involved in this effort and that's what led me to start World Central Kitchen and how I became the Culinary Ambassador of the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves. Since then, I have been devoted to using these resources to make a difference in people's lives, and it's our goal to make this difference with 100 million households by 2020.

The clean cookstoves we are introducing are not just feeding people. In Haiti, when people use clean cooking fuels instead of firewood, they're saving their forests and therefore their farming and fishing industries.

Photo courtesy of World Central Kitchen.

Photo courtesy of World Central Kitchen.

Which renewable, alternative cooking sources and fuels are you most excited about at the moment? There are so many to be excited about, it's hard to just pick one. In June, my team and I will be hosting our second Sunny Day café at the first ever BITE Conference in Silicon Valley, California. We are bringing together some of the greatest professionals from the culinary and technology world to discuss how we can join forces and start feeding our world better. We first did out Sunny Day at the Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas, and what we do is use a handful of different clean cookstoves to serve hundreds of people. An interesting one is called BioLite, which uses a very little amount of biomass and reduces smoke emissions by 95 percent. And as it burns the biomass, it creates electricity. It's incredible.

Another kind of cookstove we plan to use runs on ethanol, which is a clean liquid biofuel that's made from environmentally friendly resources such as sugar cane and potatoes. What's interesting to note is that a lot of these cookstoves work the same way as we cook now—they're just more sustainable in terms of what fuel they need.

People are so accustomed to cooking with fire, just as humanity has done for thousands of years, that communities who need it the most are shy to it.

How do these technologies make a difference to those in need? The work we are doing at World Central Kitchen, and with the Global Alliance, is changing the lives of entire communities. The clean cookstoves we are introducing are not just feeding people; they're improving their health, the environment, and economies. I'll give you an example. In Haiti, when people use clean cooking fuels instead of firewood, they're saving their forests and therefore their farming and fishing industries. Because when they use too much firewood and deforestation happens, the rains come and wash away all of the soil the farmers would use to grow food, and it would flow into the ocean and kill the marine life and make it impossible for fisherman to make a living. You see, food is interconnected with our lives, and that's why these technologies are so important.

Of course. But what's standing in the way of bringing this kind of technology to more people? Clean cooking is a very powerful thing, but it is still a very new idea. People are so accustomed to cooking with fire, just as humanity has done for thousands of years, that communities who need it the most are shy to it. It's not easy to convince people to change their methods to something they have never seen or heard of. That's why it's important that we spend the time educating these communities. People are set in their ways, and in order for us to get them to adapt, we need to give them reasons that they can relate to, reasons for why clean cookstoves can have a positive impact on their lives. And it's through our efforts with World Central Kitchen and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves that we'll be able to do this, both here at home and abroad.

You've always been a chef who has pushed the boundaries with your cooking. How do you hope to change people's thinking with clean cooking? Well, just as we have to give people reasons for why they can make a difference, it's important that we show that we believe in them, too. And that's why Sunny Day is so important. With Sunny Day, my team and I, as chefs, will feed hundreds of people a day, and prove the power of these clean cooking solutions and the positive impact they can have on everyone.

Technology is a huge part of that too, right? Technological development is the only way we can create these solutions, and by bringing together so many brilliant people at the BITE Conference, we're bringing our knowledge together, feeding off of each other, learning from one other, and making our impact stronger.

Thanks for chatting with us, José.

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