Massimo Bottura’s Olympic Efforts to Feed the Homeless: Another ‘Recipe as a Social Gesture’

The Rio Olympics were supposed to be a “green” event, marked by a greater than usual attention to sustainability and caring for the environment. Instead, they have been marred by reports of contaminated water, fears over Zika, volunteers going without food and being forced to work hours beyond their scheduled shifts, and feeding centers for the homeless shutting down because funding is being diverted to the Olympics.

With more homeless Brazilians going hungry and food prepared for VIPs going to waste, a world-renowned Italian chef has opened a gourmet soup kitchen in one of Rio’s poorest neighbourhoods. He says the aims of this “cultural project” are twofold: restoring dignity for the facility’s homeless clients and drawing attention to questions around the sustainability of the Rio Olympics.

The chef is Massimo Bottura, owner of the Michelin three-star Osteria Francescana, and the project is called RefettoRio Gastromotiva, a play on words with the Italian word for “refectory” or dining hall, and the name of the Brazilian host city.

Feeding the World’s Poor and Restoring the Dignity of the Homeless

This isn’t the first time Bottura has been connected with a high-profile effort to feed the homeless. In Milan, during the 2015 World’s Fair, the chef set up another gourmet soup kitchen, called Refettorio Ambrosiano. In an interview about that project, Bottura spoke passionately of his efforts to feed the poor and create sustainable food service projects. “To feed the planet, first you have to fight the waste,” says the chef, who uses reclaimed ingredients from commercial kitchens to cook for the homeless.

Modena Earthquake: Risotto Cacio E Pepe

I first learned about Massimo Bottura on a Netflix documentary called Chef’s Table. The premiere episode featured Bottura and told the story of how he rescued the cheese-making industry in his hometown of Modena after an earthquake in the region damaged thousands of giant wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The wheels were worth hundreds of dollars each and represented a large percentage of the region’s production. Artisanal cheese producers feared they would go bankrupt and the world would be without this classic Italian food.

Bottura conceived a plan to promote a recipe, Risotto Cacio E Pepe, that would help to sell the cheese and promote awareness of the region’s cuisine. He called the 2012 project a “recipe as a social gesture.”

Eating at RefettoRio Gastromotiva

So what does a gourmet soup kitchen serve? Well, the menu one night recently included a traditional Milanese Osso Buco (veal shanks braised with vegetables in white wine) with a side of a South American vegetable the Brazilians call batata-baroa (“Baroness potato”). (The vegetable looks something like a cross between a carrot and a potato, and is sometimes called “white carrot” or “Peruvian parsnip” because of that. It is apparently starchy and tastes like a sort of nutty potato, or maybe a cross between celery and cabbage – not like a parsnip at all.)

The meal was finished up with a serving of Italian gelato. The clients were served at tables, in proper restaurant style, which is a big difference from the sterile cafeteria or mess hall style food service they are used to in the government-operated feeding centers. The soup kitchen operates more like a fine gourmet restaurant, complete with meals created by famous chefs and recent culinary school graduates. Feeding both the body and soul of its homeless clients, the RefettoRio Gastromotiva restores dignity and helps Rio’s homeless people feel respected once more. That’s an effort worthy of a gold medal!

 

Gourmet soup kitchens set up by Chef Massimo Bottura reclaim wasted food ingredients to feed the homeless in Rio and Milan


A recent supper at RefettoRio Gastromotiva featured a classic Milanese Osso Buco made from reclaimed food ingredients
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  • Comments

    1. Profile photo of Gil Camporazo
      Gil Camporazo

      The chef is so wise and witty. He knows where to promote his best cooking recipes. I think he is a man who is not only mindful of his best skill in cooking, but how should his business be.

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        I think he is wise, indeed! And if you watch the documentary or any of the interviews he’s done, you will get a sense that Bottura is a kind man whose warmth is as strong as the sun. He’s truly a beautiful person, doing a beautiful thing to help the homeless of the world.

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        I love to watch the cooking shows too. Though this Netflix documentary, sadly, doesn’t give the recipes of chefs like Bottura. I think I will buy some of his cookbooks, though.

    2. Profile photo of Andria Perry
      Andria Perry

      What a wonderful man! A man that sees behind the scenes. One that does not look at the forest but looks into the forest.

      When the Olympics were in Atlanta the city did a “clean out” of the homeless people and it was said ” no one wants to see that!” And “that” is real life. I remember how so many homeless showed up here and were roaming the streets during that year.

      I stumbled this article

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        We had similar issues in Montreal before the 1976 Olympics. The mayor declared an entire low-income neighbourhood unsafe so he could bulldoze it, simply because he didn’t want all those tourists and visiting dignitaries to see it. There were issues around the Vancouver Olympics too, some of which really got me mad. It’s put me off supporting the games because they have such a high price tag and a serious social impact on the people who can least afford it.

        I love that Bottura has taken conspicuous consumption and massive overspending, and turned them around so they can serve as a reminder of what’s really important in life. I want to write more about the two Reffetorio projects, because the idea behind them isn’t just feeding the homeless. It’s about restoration and nourishing the soul, as much as the body.

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        It would sure be wonderful if the IOC would recognize Bottura for his efforts. And even better if future Olympics planned for the feeding of the homeless and the poor that they displace. It’s a sad but common occurrence, whenever a city hosts such a high-profile event.

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        I would sure love to eat that supper! And now I’m very curious about the “Baroness potatoes” too. I would like to taste them but apparently, they are not available anywhere in north America, just yet. Maybe the media attention to this particular meal will create an interest in importing some, or perhaps even finding places where they can be grown in the US.

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        I quite admire the way his mind works, and I think he is a most generous person with a very big heart. I don’t have too many people I would call a hero but if I had to describe Massimo Bottura in one word, that would certainly be in my top 5 descriptives for him!

    3. Profile photo of Sandy KS
      Sandy KS

      I read about this Chef. I thought it was a grand gesture. Plus, a great way to get rid of the food. Instead of allowing it to go to waste.

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        Using commercial food leftovers and write-offs is such a big issue! So many businesses require their employees to throw out perfectly good food that could be donated, simply because they fear bad press or lawsuits if someone were to get sick once the food is distributed by a soup kitchen or food bank. And of course, they won’t even let their own employees eat the food. They think it promotes fraud if they let employees take food that’s gone past the “best before” date. But really, it’s just demoralizing to make them throw it away. Especially when the companies are cutting hours and paying starvation wages.

      2. Profile photo of Sandy KS
        Sandy KS

        I use to work at a restaurant that would donate the food to a local homeless shelter. Problem was, they refused to deliver it to the homeless shelter. Instead they left it sitting out for hours til someone did pick it up. I offered to drop it off but was told the place had to pick it up if they wanted it. I couldn’t believe it.

      3. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        That’s a real issue, isn’t it? I know that organizations like Second Harvest have set up in many cities to act as an intermediary between businesses and food banks or soup kitchens. They’ll pick up the reclaimed food and distribute it where it’s most needed, which saves the charities having to divert funding to maintaining a truck and staff to pick up donations.

      4. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        Food storage is a huge issue too. Not just for things like meat, eggs, or dairy but just for the fresh produce that’s donated by grocery stores. Hubby used to help out at the local food bank and we used to see a lot of vegetables that were limp, slimy, and even beginning to mold. Really soft veggies like green onions and iceberg lettuce would sometimes go to clients “swimming in its own juices,” I’m afraid.

        There simply isn’t enough refrigerator space for most food banks to store fresh veggies…

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        I hope Bottura is recognized for his activism too, Donna. He’s won a ton of awards for his culinary skills, but he doesn’t seem to be rewarded quite so often for his devotion to serving humankind.

    4. Profile photo of Pat Z Anthony
      Pat Z Anthony

      It is wonderful that he is doing this. It was to be a “green” event but we see it is a “greed” event. Most thought it would be.

      Here and in other places we have lived, a business can’t give out leftover food b/c of the health codes. Some watch buckets of food head for the dumpster at the end of their shifts in delis and restaurants. We tried to collect some for an organization and only the bread could be given b/c of such issues. The waste has got to stop-

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        How sad that the health codes prevent donation, of all things! It’s usually corporate greed that gets in the way…

        When corporate policy forbids donating to organizations such as Second Harvest, I know some restaurant staffers will double-wrap food leftovers before taking it out to the trash. Some even have a separate place where they leave the food, so it’s not mixed in with the garbage, or they mark the bags that have good food. Then the homeless folks can arrive just after the food is put out, and get themselves a decent meal.

        It’s just a shame that it has to be done this way! Why not invite those people inside and set out a plate for them? We should treat our fellow humans with respect and dignity, after all. They shouldn’t be reduced to climbing into dumpsters when there’s perfectly good food going to waste.

    5. Profile photo of Pat Z Anthony
      Pat Z Anthony

      @ruby3881 We know some who eat scraps left on plates in restaurants while they are working in the restaurant. They would be fired if they were caught. Climbing into dumpsters: Did some dumpster diving in my day-now they are locked, so no one will be getting anything for free!

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        We see those dumpsters broken into regularly here, locks or no! The agricultural workers who come to town each summer are often hungry until their first cheque comes in. Some of the orchards are family-run businesses that provide snacks and hygiene facilities, and sometimes lodging and an advance on the pay so workers can eat. But there are a few businesses whose greed is great, and their workers suffer for it.

        This summer, some of the people in town set up an ad hoc soup kitchen (we don’t otherwise have one) for the cherry pickers. They paid for the food themselves and cooked for up to 250-300 young people each night for several weeks. It was an incredibly moving gesture that touched many of us.

    6. Profile photo of Barbara Radisavljevic
      Barbara Radisavljevic

      It seems many governments are so interested in the tourists brought in for special events that they don’t mind neglecting their own citizens — especially those with no political influence.

      1. Profile photo of Kyla Matton Osborne
        Kyla Matton Osborne Post author

        @barbrad It’s a good thing that people like Bottura think about the well being of those people who most need it, even when their governments abandon them.

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