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Star Chef Massimo Bottura Creates Food Empire to Serve the Poor

By May 5, 2017June 10th, 2021Industry News
Massimo Bottura PacGourmet

We’re used to seeing celebrity chef’s build business empires by opening restaurants in the world’s greatest cities, and by branching out into packaged goods and other related businesses. Typically, these ambitious entrepreneurs are targeting the well-heeled foodies among us, with the discretionary income and gastronomical curiosity to support these ventures.

Food for Soul

Well, one of the most acclaimed chefs on the planet, Massimo Bottura, the chef at Osteria Francescana tucked between Parma and Bologna in Italy, has a different plan. Osteria Francescana is Bottura’s only restaurant, with just 12 tables. But he’s expanding into the world’s poorest communities through a nonprofit project, Food for Soul, with his wife Laura Gilmore.

The broad aim of Food for Soul is to encourage public and private organizations to create community kitchens for underserved people around using unused urban spaces and excess food. Specifically, that means the organization raises funds to renovate abandoned spaces in neglected areas; prepares seasonal meals from the surplus food of supermarkets, local markets and suppliers that would have otherwise been discarded; and serves people in need. Local volunteers, artists and chefs from around the world to share a place at the table and enjoy a meal together.

A New Vision of Feeding the Poor

This is not your Saturday soup kitchen. Food for Soul brings in top architects and artists to create upscale aesthetics worthy of the upscale cuisine, making first class dining available for the needy that are often made to feel like second-class citizens elsewhere. The dining rooms are called “refrettorios,” after the communal tables common in monasteries.

The response has ranged from enthusiastic to ecstatic. At Refrettorio Ambrosiano in Milan, for example, Buttura invited more than 60 world-class guest chefs to pitch in, including Mario Batali, Alain Ducasse, Gastón Acurio, and René Redzepi. The chefs visited the refettorio and shared their ideas and recipes so to work with re-purposed ingredients from potato peels to day old bread. Next came RefettoRio Gastromotiva in Rio de Janeiro,  which debuted during the 2016 Olympics using excess food from the Olympic Village to serve some 5,000 meals to underserved residents. Cities on the group’s agenda include London, New York and, yes San Francisco.

Rescuing the Abandoned

The common theme of Food for Soul is to rescue the abandoned–abandoned food, abandoned spaces and abandoned people. The group points out that in Milan alone, an excess of 8 million Euros of food is discarded. Refrettorios combine art, culture and food in a grand gesture of recovery and inclusion, building on the know-how of professionals from the world of community service, design, art and the food industry in order to foster a long life for each project and to create convivial and engaging environments.

A major goal is to connect people from diverse economic and geographic culture, and diverse fields of expertise around a common vision for sharing the responsibility for our collective futures.

Excess Capacity

The sharing economy is figuring out all kinds of ways to harness excess capacity–cars that aren’t being driven to provide taxi service, rooms that aren’t being used to provide lodging, and driveways that aren’t being used to provide parking. All of these are mass-scale for-profit ventures. Food for Soul is taking advantage of excess space and food to raise up the under-served people of the world.