Photo Courtesy Melissa King

After days of quarantine at sea, World Central Kitchen stepped in to feed guests aboard the Grand Princess.

Ellen Fort  – March 11, 2020

COVID-19, the novel coronavirus whose spread has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, has caused massive cancellations of large events from Austin’s SXSW to SF tech company conferences. One of the more visible sagas in the ongoing virus-related crisis has been the quarantine of passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which docked in the Port of Oakland on Monday, March 9 with over 3,500 passengers on board. 

Now, celebrity chef José Andrés has deployed his non-profit, World Central Kitchen (WCK), to the scene to provide hot meals for the passengers and crew as they await disembarkation over the course of several days. The ship was originally scheduled to dock in San Francisco; it was later diverted to Oakland after it was discovered that 21 people on board tested positive for the virus. Reports from passengers have indicated that food supplies have been dwindling on board, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, with “a roll and three pieces of ravioli each” serving as dinner on Sunday night. 

Enter WCK and its volunteers, who were also integral in feeding the passengers aboard Diamond Princess, the first ship to undergo quarantine outside of Yokohama, Japan (those passengers have since disembarked). In the Bay Area, volunteers have been preparing meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as bagged meals to hand out as passengers disembark. Chef Melissa King, a finalist on Season 12 of Bravo’s Top Chef, was contacted by the organization to help facilitate volunteer efforts. 

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“WCK’s mission is to create a nice hot meal, to create something made with love coming from somewhere that’s safe,” says King.  “These people can’t go home to their families, they’ve been traveling on this boat and it feels like the least I can do.”

Chef Melissa King prepares food while volunteering with World Central Kitchen

Photo Courtesy Melissa King

King and volunteers coated four hundred tri-tip steaks with dry rub, seared them, roasted them to medium rare, sliced them, and served them with a barbecue glaze.  Sides included steamed vegetables like sweet potatoes and broccoli, and garlic mashed potatoes. Vegetarians enjoyed a dinner of penne pasta with marinara sauce and chickpeas, and vegetables. Today’s menu includes orange soy glazed salmon with kale and edamame quinoa with a vegetable glend on the side, according to WCK twitter.

“Everyone that was [volunteering] was just really excited and happy to be helping these people that are in a really unfortunate situation,” says King. “It was extremely rewarding.”

King also emphasized that safety was a huge concern for all involved, with a very intricate system of firewalls to prevent infection across volunteers or passengers. Food is prepared in the kitchens of the University of San Francisco, which has suspended in-person classes. It’s then transported to Oakland by a different team, before it is handed off to another team to deliver the food aboard the Grand Princess. 

American passengers are being transported to military bases for 14-day quarantines, and foreign passengers will be collected by their countries for repatriation. Meanwhile, the crew has ordered to remain on board the ship, which leave the port for quarantine after all passengers have disembarked.  The majority of COVID-19 cases are among crew members, making up 19 of the 21 infected persons. 

Stay up to date with WCK’s efforts by following them on Twitter.

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