The world’s highest-rated Italian chef tackles food waste while reducing hunger and promoting social inclusion.
“This place gives us something special: eating with dignity,” tells me Gianpiero, a young man who found himself homeless a few years ago now, while I serve him lunch at the Refettorio Felix.
The Refettorio is a community kitchen which originated from the idea of Massimo Bottura, one of the most famous chefs worldwide, to tackle food waste whilst fighting hunger.
“We believe sharing a meal does not involve only the food itself, but there are several other aspects that need to be considered.”
The idea behind the project is as simple as innovative: by using quality tableware and offering a restaurant-style service, “we want to make each guest feel valued and bring a sense of dignity back to the table,” explains Zoe, the volunteers’ coordinator.
As soon as I walked in the Refettorio, refectory in English, I notice the uniqueness of the place. A modern and simple design makes the big room warm and at the same time fresh. Enormous spheric bulbs hang from the high ceiling over long white tables. Chefs, volunteers, and staff are at work in the kitchen visible from the dining room.
“Our project aims to engage our vulnerable guests in a holistic approach to nourishment that feeds the body and the soul,” continues Zoe.
Refettorio Felix gives part of its success (and name) to the Non-Profit Organisation The Felix Project, which collects surplus food from big and small businesses across the capital and delivers it to food charities.
Their daily door-to-door service allows them to serve fresh food that would otherwise end up in the waste just because it wasn’t sold. The organisation, which is run by volunteers, provides food for over 1 million meals every year, working across over 90 suppliers and supplying over 120 charities.
Thanks to the food provided by the organisation, the Refettorio manages to serve a three-course lunch Monday to Friday for rough sleepers and people suffering from mental health. “Our guests count on individuals and families in situations of food poverty, food insecurity and social vulnerability”, explains the volunteer’s coordinator.
The numbers are pretty astonishing if we consider that the Refettorio opened only in June 2017: “two tons of recovered food, 6500 dishes served, 300 volunteers and 30 guest chefs involved”, reports the organisation on its website.
But the Refettorio is only the latest fruit of a bigger project which Bottura’s organisation aims to carry out across the world. In fact, the first one was created during the Expo 2015 in Milan when the three Michelin-starred chef created the Refettorio Ambrosiano for the exhibition’s themed ‘Feed the Planet’. The successful initiative brought Bottura to establish Food for Soul, the not-for-profit organisation to continue creating sustainable soup kitchens across the world.
Rio de Janeiro was the first to see the international project in 2016, where surplus food from the Olympic Games was revalued in tasty meals for people living in the most deprived areas of the city.
To date, we can count more of those food charities in the Italian cities of Bologna and Modena, while many others are planned to open soon in cities such as Berlin and Los Angeles.
I had a chat with Zoe and Catherine, two volunteers, and the guest Gianpiero soon after the service
Want to know more about the topic? Today, December 4th, the Voice of London has launched ‘London, don’t get wasted’ – a new website with its focus entirely on how well, or badly, we Londoners treat our environment.
Words: Fabiola Zaccardelli | Subbing: Silvia Tadiello