Chefs Are Transforming Rio's Wasted Food Into Meals for the Homeless
"This is not a charity, it's not just about feeding people."
Dishing up 60,000 meals a day, the massive dining hall feeding the athletes in the Rio de Janeiro summer Olympics is bound to produce some food waste. A single meal in the athlete's village uses an average of 250 tons of raw ingredients, potentially producing a staggering amount of excess over the 16 days of competition. That realization was why one of the world's most celebrated chefs decided to step in to make sure that food surplus goes to those who need it most.
Italian chef Massimo Bottura—whose restaurant, Osteria Francescana, was recently declared the best in the world on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list—recruited other celebrated chefs to join him in creating a once-in-a-lifetime dining hall in Rio. However, the restaurant's guests aren't celebrity swimmers or high-powered Brazillian politicians, but rather members of the city's swelling homeless population.
"I thought, this is an opportunity to do something that can make a difference," Bottura tells The New York Times of his motivation for the project. Volunteer cooks and servers from Japan to Germany have joined Bottura and his collaborator, Brazillian chef David Hertz, to create a gourmet dining experience—called the Refettorio Satromotiva—using discarded ingredients from the Olympic Village and other sources. The restaurant offers lunch to paying customers in order to cover the costs of 108 free dinners each night for those in need.
The dining hall, which has set up shop in the lower-income neighborhood Lapa, opened on Wednesday and has acted, for many, as a contrast to the many indulgent and pricy banquets and parties that have taken place across the city thoughout the games. Bottura has united some of the biggest names in the chef world including Alain Ducasse, Virgilio Martinez Veliz, Joan Roca and Alex Atala, the chef behind one of Brazil's top restaurants, D.O.M., along with 40-plus others to craft the meals. So far, menu items have included a Tuscan bread-and-tomato dish created with ingredients from the Olympic Village's catering companies, and an Italian couscous with sautéed beef and panzanella.
However, according to Bottura, his focus wasn't on simply creating delicious meals, but on sending a message to Brazil and the world as a whole. "This is not a charity, it's not just about feeding people," the chef says. "This is about social inclusion, teaching people about food waste and giving hope to people who have lost all hope." In fact, the Rio Refettorio isn't Bottura's first foray into a charitable dining experience. During the World Expo in Milan last year, the chef converted an abandoned building into the similar Refettorio Ambrosiano, which continues to function today.
David Hertz, Bottura's partner in the Rio project, has also been deeply involved in feeding the less fortunate over the last decade. He has helped to train thousands of disadvantaged Brazillians to work as kitchen assistants through his nonprofit, Gastromotiva, which operates four culinary schools across Brazil, as well as new branches in Mexico City and South Africa.
Hertz and Bottura raised a quarter of a million dollars to contruct the Refettorio on an empty lot provided by Brazil's mayor. Bottura's own nonprofit organization, Food for Soul, has a 10-year lease on the plot of land, and according to the chef "This is not some pop-up project." Rather, the restaurant, which reimagines wasted ingredients in new and magnificent ways, is apparently here to stay—and to feed countless more Brazillians in need of a helping hand.