PARIS, March 16 ― Flanked by two of his triple Michelin-starred friends, Alain Ducasse and Yannick Alleno, chef Massimo Bottura officially opened Refettorio Paris yesterday at the historic Madeleine Church, where celebrity chefs and culinary students will transform supermarket surplus into meals for the homeless.
In front of journalists, local celebrity chefs and the food glitterati, Bottura asked the audience to refrain from calling the project a “charity.”
“This is not a charity,” he said in French.
“This is a cultural project, to combat food waste.”
Refettorio Paris is the latest opening from Bottura's non-profit organisation Food for Soul, whose goal is to fight food waste and hunger with the help of his chef friends around the world.
And after Rio de Janeiro, Milan, Modena, Bologna, London and Paris, Bottura revealed that momentum is growing around the world, with discussions currently underway to expand the model to cities across North America, including Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco, Boston, and Merida, Mexico, along with New York and Detroit.
“The more people we involve, the more it will change the world and spread,” he said.
The Paris project, for instance, was spearheaded by French artist and “photograffeur” JR, who upon learning about the project in Rio, was instrumental in bringing the Refettorio to France.
The artist also contributed to the décor of the crypt, where meals will be served in a sit-down, restaurant-style-setting, with cloud installations suspended from the arched ceiling.
At the Refettorio entrance, guests are greeted by a black and white photo of Bottura's open, cupped hands.
Celebrity chefs to volunteer at Refettorio Paris
Thanks to a network of friends in high places, guests who dine at Refettorio Paris will be fed by some of the top chefs in France and the world, including culinary heavyweights like Michel Troisgros, Alain Passard, Olivier Roellinger, Ducasse and Alleno.
Only instead of cooking with truffles or heirloom, organic tomatoes, the Michelin-starred chefs will be tasked with turning 130kg of surplus ingredients provided by supermarkets and charities like Carrefour, Banque Alimentaire and Phenix into 100 tasty meals a night, on the fly.
Unlike typical soup kitchens, where the homeless stand in line and await their turn for a volunteer to plop a ladle full of stew or pasta onto a paper plate, at Refettorio Paris guests will be seated on restaurant-style banquettes and at tables illuminated by rose gold-colored lamps.
Volunteers are instructed to serve with hospitality, as they treat their guests to multi-course meals that not only fill their stomachs and keep them warm, but let them dine with dignity, Bottura added.
“I remember an old lady in London, who said, 'This is the most beautiful place I've seen in my life. This is going to create community for us. I'm 92 years old, and I can die very happy.'“
Refettorio Paris is now open for dinner Monday to Friday for the city's homeless, vulnerable and refugees. ― AFP-Relaxnews