As the Bahamas begins a long recovery from Hurricane Dorian, Chef Ming Tsai is helping to feed the storm's survivors. Tsai is working with World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization founded by celebrity chef José Andrés. WGBH Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu spoke with Tsai about the experience. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Chef Ming Tsai: Fortunately, we're based in Nassau, and Nassau really did not get hit that bad. They had some flooding. But thank God, because Atlantis has opened its doors and given us a huge kitchen to work out of. And we're producing over 20,000 meals a day now [over] the last four days. [Giving] sandwiches and fruit to places that are really far out and then hot meals ... to all the shelters across the Bahamas.
Specifically in Abaco, "The Mud" is the area where a lot of Haitians live and [it's] completely destroyed. And it's 100 degrees. So even if you have a roof over your head, if you have children you can't stay on the island. So a lot of people are trying to get off with ships and whatnot. Most are coming to Nassau, because it's obviously the capital. Some are going out to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. People are taking people in. Fortunately they have large families, so they do have aunties, uncles and maybe pairs of grandparents on other islands.
But there's going to be just a huge challenge. They claim 40,000 to 70,000 more are going to be coming to Nassau, and they don't have enough beds and shelters for that many people here. So that's going to be a problem that the government's going to have to solve. But what José Andrés and World Center Kitchen does is they get boots on the ground. In this instance, Jose beat the hurricane. He was here two days before it even hit, risking his life, honestly, because the hurricane could have gone to Nassau. He didn't know it was going to go north. He's god-like, but he is not technically God, so he can't control hurricanes.
Literally the first day we were already with helicopters, which was the only way of getting food to these islands [because] there was so much debris in the water you couldn't even get a boat close. That was four or five days ago. Now, fortunately, the debris has been cleared out. World Central Kitchen now has three helicopters. We have a seaplane, which has been great. That's how we're getting food and water to all these people.
Joe Mathieu: How many people do you have to work with there, chef? And how do you decide what to make? As you described, some of these dishes are going a long way.
Tsai: One of the great things about World Central Kitchen is that it has their core team — they're 24 people strong. Not all are here, some are in other disasters ... so they're spread across the world. Here, specifically from World Central Kitchen there are probably 10 people, including José. But what World Central Kitchen does so well is it puts it out on social [that] we need volunteers. So we have tons of Bahamian volunteers, high school kids, college kids, moms, dads [and] people that just want to give back because again, people that are living on Nassau are actually okay. But with only about 10 real cooks and then all the volunteers, you can put out 20,000 to 40,000 meals. You only need a couple of chefs that can guide people, but you still need people to chop garlic.
And we try to make the best food possible. One of the best staples of course is rice. ... I can't even tell you how many thousands of pounds of rice I've been cooking. And then rice and peas, which is a local favorite here, which again is great nutrition. And we're doing lots of braises and stew.
But I have to be honest, you go to these shelters and they are packed. We saw these little kids sleeping on the ground of a shelter on a sheet. Not a mattress, not padding, just a sheet. And they may be there for weeks. ... It's just horrific. And the only thing we can do is not thoughts and prayers, [it's] food and water, and just give them some hope.