Massimo Bottura plans chef-run soup kitchen in Mérida, salvaging food waste

In Milan, Massimo Bottura runs one of many "haute-cuisine soup kitchens."
  • In Milan, Massimo Bottura runs one of many "haute-cuisine soup kitchens."

One of the world’s top chefs will open a refettorio in Mérida to feed chef-prepared meals to those in need.

Massimo Bottura is no stranger to Mérida. He has vacationed here and in January was a headliner in a food festival.

He is also no stranger to running refettorios — from the Latin word reficere, which means to rebuild or restore. He has built other so-called “haute-cuisine soup kitchens” in the outskirts of Milan, London and Rio. He’s also planning an expansion to New York, where he received a Rockefeller grant to build even more in the U.S.

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The kitchens transform food waste from restaurants and markets into gourmet meals.

“The culture of food waste is much like the culture of peripheral neighborhoods of any city,” Bottura writes, “what is unwanted gets pushed further away.” The chef notes that the refettorios give “food a voice [and] waste a place.”

Bottura has re-imagined the humble soup kitchen. Their dining rooms and plates shine, the result of his network of chefs and designers.

At his Paris kitchen, for example, Bottura assembled an all-star cast of collaborators, including artist JR and fellow foodies, Alain Ducasse and Anna Sophie Pic. From artistically transformed vaulted crypts of the L’église de la Madeleine Catholic church in the city’s 8th arrondissement, the kitchen serves 100 meals a day to low-income, homeless and migrant residents.

The idea of ​​building the community dining room in Yucatán’s capital arose after a vacation that Bottura spent with his family in here.

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“Two years ago I traveled to Mérida with my family, I fell in love with the city and its culture. For two years I wanted to do something there and now we are doing it,” he said.

Jabib Chapur Becil, president of Fundación Palace, said that Bottura will offer two dinners in Cancun on Friday and Saturday to benefit the dining room’s construction — wherever it may be. Its location is yet to be determined.

“We still have many things to define, but what is certain is that it will be ready in 2019,” he stressed.

Cristina Reni, project manager of Food for Soul, Bottura’s foundation that runs the dining rooms, indicated that it will help the most disadvantaged people while avoiding the waste of food.

“We work to transmit our knowledge to chefs, because where there is beauty you can have dignity for people. It’s not about giving them leftovers, but products that are in good condition, that are healthy and above all that are prepared with love,” she said.

Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura’s high-end restaurant in Modena, Italy, has earned three Michelin stars.

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