World Central Kitchen’s rise as one of the world’s most agile and far-flung emergency feeding operations has been fueled by two powerful forces: chefs who know how to organize kitchens quickly in the most extreme circumstances, and the undeniable charisma of the chef José Andrés, a wealthy, well-connected restaurateur driven to feed people in disaster zones even when it seems impossible.

On Monday, seven workers from the organization were killed by an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip. They had just unloaded 100 tons of food at a warehouse in Deir al Balah, a city in the central Gaza Strip, and were headed out in a car branded with the organization’s logo and two armored vehicles. One of those killed was a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, and the others were from Australia, Britain, Gaza and Poland.

“I am heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends and our whole WCK family,” Mr. Andres said in a statement on the social media platform X. The organization has stopped feeding people there while it assesses what to do next.

The scope of the global reaction to the killings — in a war that has already resulted in the deaths of at least 203 other aid workers, according to the Aid Security Workers Database — is, in part, a reflection of the visibility of World Central Kitchen.

The idea for the organization came to Mr. Andrés in 2010, when he cooked with Haitians who were living in a camp after an earthquake. They taught him how to prepare beans as local cooks would, and he realized that making dishes specific to a region was essential to comforting people in a disaster. From there, he helped build schools and train cooks in Haiti and other countries.

His model — using a network of local chefs to serve thousands of meals based on local recipes — came together when he traveled to Houston to help after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Later that year, wearing an Orvis fly-fishing vest like a battle jacket with rolls of cash in one pocket and cigars in the other, he flew into Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Much of the island was without power. The only water came from bottles. People were hungry. He tapped a few chef friends and started cooking, doing what government entities and more organized relief organizations like the Salvation Army couldn’t. At one point, he persuaded federal agents on the ground to load food into their vehicles as they headed out to patrol.

All of the group’s efforts centered on making hot food that was familiar to the people who were displaced. Some fresh fruit and a bowl of sancocho, a Puerto Rican stew that Mr. Andres and his crew made in oversize paella pans, was a lot more comforting than a government-issued M.R.E. or a box of processed American snacks.

“I am doing it without red tape and 100 meetings,” he said at the time.

Chris Barrett, an expert on international food assistance programs at Cornell University, said that among aid groups, World Central Kitchen has an unusually focused mission, with its special attention to cooking.

“They’re a relatively small operation in broader humanitarian-assistance terms, but high visibility, in part because of their leadership, and in part because I think they represent a perspective that’s different from mainstream humanitarian response,” he said.

The group’s presence in Gaza, Mr. Barrett said, has been especially important in the absence of a strong government-aid infrastructure there, and because there are few food businesses for the mostly displaced population and relief groups to tap. In Yemen and Syria, he noted, groups have used vouchers that people can redeem at stores, sparing them of some of the on-site cooking responsibilities that World Central Kitchen takes on.

Mr. Andrés was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2018. The ascent of World Central Kitchen came as many American chefs took up the role of political activist, whether fighting popular causes like feeding the hungry, pressing the government for Covid relief, speaking out against racism and sexual assault — or, most recently, weighing in on the conflict in Gaza.

“Chefs are some of the most trusted and connected people in their communities,” said Laura Hayes, the senior manager of an arm of World Central Kitchen called the Chef Corps. “They have this innate drive to better their communities and help their neighbors.”

Ms. Hayes coordinates a network of 400 chefs and restaurateurs who spring into action when a disaster hits, volunteering to find kitchens to use, food trucks to dispatch and recipes and ingredients that the people in need would find most comforting. World Central Kitchen also hires local cooks. Nearly 400 Palestinians work in the organization’s 60 kitchens. “The quality of our food is the most important thing to us, along with speed and urgency,” she said.

With big-name chefs behind it and a clear mission that Mr. Andrés and his organization regularly broadcast from the scene on social media feeds, World Central Kitchen became a destination for people who wanted their donated dollars to reap tangible results. The group raised almost $30 million in 2019, then about $250 million in 2020.

In 2021, Jeff Bezos, the owner of The Washington Post, handed Mr. Andrés $100 million through his annual Courage and Civility Award. The chef plowed the money back into the organization. In 2022, World Central Kitchen took in $519 million in grants and donations.

The organization, by many accounts, was growing faster than its management structure could support. Last year, Bloomberg News reported allegations that Mr. Andrés had pushed people to deliver food in unsafe conditions and that the group had not dealt properly with a senior manager accused of sexual harassing women. World Central Kitchen promised new safeguards, and dismissed the manager and Nate Mook, the chief executive officer.

The organization’s work in Ukraine was its first in a war zone. In March, Gaza became its second, and showed how nimble World Central Kitchen’s operations had become. Working out of dozens of community kitchens in Gaza, staff members and volunteers made hundreds of pans of mujadara, a lentil-and-rice dish with crispy fried onions, and assembled Ramadan food kits. The group sent in more than 1,700 trucks containing food and cooking equipment.

Sean Carroll, the chief executive of Anera, an aid group that has worked extensively with Mr. Andrés’s group to deliver meals in Gaza, said that World Central Kitchen’s operations even in conflict zones had become experienced and highly professional.

World Central Kitchen, which initially struggled to get clearance to enter Gaza, advised Anera on the key elements of food aid, he said, such as the weight of a proper serving (one pound), how heavy a food delivery bag should be for someone who might struggle to carry it, and how many meals might be included in larger food packages.

The effort in Ukraine is by Mr. Andres’s account the largest food relief operation in that country. It began feeding people in February 2022, shortly after the Russian invasion, serving more than 235 million meals there and to refugees in seven other countries. The Ukraine operation has attracted celebrities and star chefs like Rachael Ray, who is planning her fifth humanitarian visit in May, and volunteered with World Central Kitchen.

A restaurant operated by the organization in Kharkiv, Ukraine, was hit by a missile at one point early in the war, wounding four staff members, a group official said.

Kim O’Donnel, an author and food writer who lives in Seattle, spent a week volunteering for the organization in Przemysl, where she met Damian Sobol, one of the World Central Kitchen workers killed in Gaza.

The lack of safety protocols and instruction made her worry, she said.

“You were kind of on your own when you weren’t working in the kitchen,” she said. The border was less than a dozen miles away, and she thought the organization was not doing enough to remind people how close to war they were. Some volunteers would cross into Ukraine and have trouble getting back.

Ms. O’Donnel said the lack of a handbook or formal instruction on safety protocols available before she left was a red flag. “It definitely gave me cause to pause,” she said. The work is vital, she said, but there are questions that should be asked.

“I am not casting blame,” she said, “but I hope that this is an opportunity to step back a little bit and reflect.”

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.

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