Massimo Bottura with Robert de Niro are planning a new Refettorio in the Bronx which will open in early 2017.  Image by Massimo Bottura
Massimo Bottura with Robert de Niro are planning a new Refettorio in the Bronx which will open in early 2017. Image by Massimo Bottura

Think of Milan during the months of the Expo. Think of the incredible amount of food produced and consumed on its premises. Think also of the equally large amount of food wasted: if you made some extra cash working the last shift in a café or a restaurant during your college years, you may have a relatively clear idea of what I am talking about. 

Massimo Bottura, whose Modena restaurant Osteria Francescana has recently gained the first place in the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant list, refused to let fame and wealth get to his head and decided to turn Expo’s wasted – but still good! – food and ingredients into an opportunity to help the less fortunate. Today, his Milan initiative is about to turn international and travel, among other destinations, also to the US. 

The Milan Experience: Refettorio Ambrosiano

Bottura developed a program to gather and use all the left over ingredients and food bound to be thrown away by the various kitchens of the Expo. Thanks to his connections in the field, he managed to get on board  sixty top international chefs, who accepted to prepare meals for Milan ’s homeless. Thanks to the help and support of the Caritas Ambrosiana, the city’s section of the official Catholic charity association Caritas, meals were served every night, for the duration of the Expo, in one of Milan’s most deprived area, the quartiere Greco. More than fifteen tons of food were saved and a brilliant example for more similar efforts was set. 

Bottura named the initiative Refettorio Ambrosiano: in Italian, the word “refettorio” refers to the common feeding areas of schools and religious institutions, which many of us associate not only with the idea of food, but also with that of community and commensality. And as helping others has a truly invigorating effect Bottura, also galvanized by the success of his idea, decided to extend it to other cities and other events, creating Food for Soul a non profit, cultural association aiming at providing regular meals to the needy. 

The famous chef declared publicly that both Food for Soul and Refettorio Ambrosiano were inspired by the figure and words of Pope Francis, who officially blessed the initiative with his support. Support also given, through their participation, by some of the most famous and renowned names of world cuisine, including Alain Ducasse, Mauro Colagreco and Mitsuharo Tsumura. 

A similar refettorio has recently opened in Bologna and another will be proposed soon in Rio de Janeiro in occasion of the Olympics: here a “RefettoRio” will operate in one of the city’s poorer favelas. 

Bottura and charity: a match made in… Modena

Refettorio Ambrosiano and its sister projects in Bologna and Rio are not the first example of Bottura’s mingling with charity. 

When Modena, home to his most famous restaurant, the already mentioned Osteria Francescana, was hit by a deadly earthquake in 2012, many parmigiano reggiano producers lost a large amount of their famously recognizable wheels, thus facing possible financial problems. To help them, Bottura created a special risotto, which he then proposed all over the world, made with pepper and a earthy quantity of parmigiano: his idea, fantastically chronicled in Netflix documentary Chef’s Table, helped keep many a producer out of troubles during those unfaithful months. 

New York, New York

Bottura has no intention to stop: last month he officially announced the opening, in early 2017, of another Refettorio in the Bronx, also thanks to the supervision and collaboration of the Italian Consulate in New York. 

According to the Gazzetta di Modena, the announcement has been made by Bottura himself last June via Twitter, where he posted a micro message stating he was “planning our new Refettorio in the Bronx. With Bob, 2017.” Along with it, a photo of the chef and … Bob: acting extraordinaire and proud Newyorker Robert de Niro. 

De Niro’s involvement may appear strange to those not aware of the fact he is a pro of the culinary world, as he owns a series of famous eateries in the Big Apple, including Nobu, Tribeca and the Locanda Verde. De Niro, the Italian daily La Repubblica writes, is very tied to his hometown and his origins and represents the perfect partner for a project aiming at helping the local community, on the territory. 

The Bottura – de Niro collaboration is only at the beginning and not many details about it have been released. Yet, the Bronx Refettorio has already found a place on the official Food for Soul page, which remains the best place to get all relevant updates about the exact location and date of its 2017 opening.

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