Albert Iniesta Garciolo, a 37-year-old chef from La Herradura who runs the town’s Pura Vida restaurant, has been working in collaboration with celebrity chef José Andrés, feeding refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The NGO World Central Kitchen, which is chaired by José Andrés, is preparing meals for 16,000 people a day, both refugees and volunteers in a large industrial facility located in the city of Przemysl on the Ukraine-Poland border.
Garciolo has been part of a team of 35 cooks from all over the world, rotating to feed Ukrainian refugee families, mostly mothers with their children, volunteers and even Russians who have deserted from the army. He describes the experience of seeing the effects of the war in person as "a slap in the face of reality".
"These days have given me a lot personally and professionally. I had never fed 16,000 people or been part of such a big team. The atmosphere has been very nice. It was impressive to see people who are very well placed in life working there in an altruistic way," Garciolo reflects.
"There were important people there because in the United States José Andrés is an institution. International chefs, a man who has his own TV channel, an engineer from NASA, a Hollywood producer, a famous designer from Mexico. We've all been there cooking and helping out. It is very exciting to see how we all share the same cause and the feeling that we were taking care of people", explains the chef from La Herradura.
Typically the team prepares stews and casseroles, but above all sandwiches. "We work on a production line, one is in charge of the bread, another the cheese, another the chicken and others wrap them in brown paper. More than six thousand sandwiches are made each day for the refugees who would then leave in buses to go to other parts of Europe,” Garciolo says.
"We ended up exhausted every day, you can't demand as much from a volunteer as from a professional, but everything was well organised," he points out.
Albert also says that the philosophy of the NGO run by chef José Andrés, "who has an incredible human quality", is to bring wealth to the area and not to create a conflict with local restaurants, which is why they work in coordination with these local entrepreneurs to feed the refugees.
"War is a tragedy of indescribable dimension, the only thing that comforts me is having seen that there are many people working to take care of the refugees, to alleviate their suffering.” He goes on to say, “In our kitchens, the maxim was to treat them with dignity, not to make them feel like poor people begging for food, but to treat them like our customers in a restaurant because that is what they are, people like you and me, well-dressed and with an iPhone 10 who have had to leave their country because of an invasion.”
"I would like to emphasise that I am not a hero, everyone, experienced or not, can help,” Garciolo concludes.