Ruffo Ibarra is the chef of the gastronomic restaurant Oryx, in Tijuana, Mexico. As a member of the Mexican Bocuse d'Or delegation, he and the team won the Bocuse d'Or Social Commitment Award, which rewards a large-scale humanitarian project every two years. Since the start of his career as a chef, Ruffo Ibarra has joined forces with the World Central Kitchen, which incubated the Tijuana Sin Hambre project, a foundation that provides meals and humanitarian assistance to migrants on the Mexican-American border. A colossal task that lasts for years and which has become more complex, the transit zone becoming even more dense throughout the years.
As a chef, and on a personal level, when did start your work as a humanitarian ?
I started when I was very young. I think it is one of the biggest things is our values and our culture. So, my mother used to work with a lot of nonprofits when she was, I don't know, probably around my age, even younger. Sundays weren't fun at first for us because it was going to, you know, go give meals or should help shelters. It was a seed that my mom planted when I was very young. Obviously, I came to my teen years, and I did not care about helping anybody other than myself because we tend to be very selfish at this point. Everything was really happening when large caravans of migrants came to Tijuana trying to cross the border towards to the United States. People from Haiti were here, and the World Central Kitchen was already there. They were looking for chefs, local chefs to start making sandwiches and feeding people, which is what they do, what we do, I guess. And immediately I said yes. So, I was I was doing that, from 8:00 to 2:00 PM. And then went to the the restaurant because service started at 2. So that's how it all came to be again. It is all tied together because we feed people, we're in the service industry. And I've always said my mission is to serve. Food is one of the tools so that we had to serve. It changed my life the moment I started helping alongside Jose Andres and and this team. And then it was, This is About Humanity and Tijuana Sin Hambre and so many other nonprofits.
Can we talk specifically more about the birth of Tijuana Sin Hambre because it's more specific. It's more local. Could you develop a bit more about this one and how do you?
There is another fundation called This is About humanity, they raised funds to feed people, as The World Central Kitchen fed the shelters here in Tijuana. Though, eventually the WCK are so active worldwide that they couldn't continue the operation that was ongoing for like 5 years in Tijuana. So, Tijuana Sanabria was built by Maru Riqué and her husband. And they were ongoing, and it was a smaller operation. It was kind of the glue to make this transition and not leave, you know, all these shelters without food. So now This is About Humanity is funding Tijuana Sin Hambre and received the kitchen donated by WCK. It is now serving 2225 hundred meals a day for different shelters, especially for immigrants, the LGBTQIA+ community, children, most of them separated from their families. They are doing a great job, considering that it is very complicated on a political level.
The border issue is still extremely complex.
Absolutely, it's not easy to help somebody that some people and I understand both sides. I've been doing this for a while now. I've learned a lot. But at a humanitarian level, you hear these stories: you know, running from danger, from violence. It is about starvation. It is incredible. So normally, most people that make it here are people that want to do something for themselves and for their families. I even talked to a 16-year-old kid that made it here by himself. He left his family to try and help his family. He was the youngest, so there's so many stories and that's a light one.
Still, many states around the globe who needs who suffer from food insecurities. War, hunger, high prices or even diminished resources. Is it getting harder to feed people?
It's always complicated. It will never be easy to feed people. I think it gets harder as we go. We're overpopulated as a planet, so resources begin to shrink. They are seriously diminishing. And when you're feeding people at this stage where they're hungry, their nutrition is down. You're trying to give them the nutrients that they need at the same time, and you always look for great partners to help achieving this aim. But it’s getting harder every day. Fortunately, This is About Humanity does a great job, because they do tours from Los Angeles to Tijuana and they get a lot of people and some of their donators and most of their donators involved. They will cook through the day, they will visit, we will change the tents they have in a in a refugee camp and above all they'll listen to some stories, and from that so they can get a glimpse of this reality. The number kept going up. It started at 1000 now it's a 2500. Every time we have a wave of immigrants, it's directly affecting the amount of food that we must put out and obviously our resources get slimmer so maybe the portions aren't one day what we would like it to be. This border has the biggest flow in the world, and I won’t be this problem solved in my lifetime. We are trying to look for other options, to make them more sustainable. We are also working with ICF, the international fund. The idea is to look at options with food banks, groceries markets and all these partners to make it easier on us and at the same time be more sustainable.
Interview by Hannah Benayoun
& Barbara Zandoval (Unsplash)