His non-profit charity, Food for Soul, has launched community kitchens for homeless and vulnerable people in Milan and Rio de Janerio, and now London. The chef spoke to media outlets including BigHospitality at the launch of the Earl’s Court kitchen, Refettorio Felix, last night (5 June).
Why are you bringing Food for Soul to London?
At a time when everybody is building walls, we are breaking walls. This is a project based on inclusion. Are we another soup kitchen? No, but I think we need another place full of beauty. During service today a woman said she felt a sense of community. I thought, wow, we’ve got it, and it’s only the first day! In Milan it took two months.
Why launch Food for Soul in the first place?
Millions of people people are starving, millions are overweight and 1.3bn tonnes of food are wasted every year - that’s a third of what’s produced. So we don’t need to produce more, we just need to waste less. I wanted to show that we could do it. [In 2015] we built an amazing kitchen in Milan, then the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro sent us a message saying they needed a similar project and I thought, why not? This is just the beginning.
How important is it that the kitchens are run by both chefs and volunteers?
We need the chefs, they have sensitive souls. They believe in this project, and they are part of the community that we have created. This is not waste! These are ordinary ingredients, and we are asking the right questions. We can turn bread that’s two days old in to bruschetta.
We need the knowledge of chefs to show what we can do with ordinary ingredients, then we can transfer that knowledge to the kitchen volunteers and show the younger generation that they can do it too. You set an example. This is a cultural project, not a charity project.
Alain Ducasse is the first guest chef working in the London kitchen, who else is in the line-up?
Isaac [McHale] from The Clove Club, Brett [Graham] from The Ledbury, Giorgio Locatelli, Nuno Mendes to name a few. We had 170 requests from people wanting to take part. The chefs can bring their own team or just work with the volunteers. It’s a mixture of people who want to be part of it.
What’s on the menu?
The truck from [food waste charity] the Felix Project comes here at around 9am each day and we unload the ingredients and decide on a menu. Today we put all the vegetables we had in to a soup with black lentils. We made an amazing pesto, switching the pine nuts with breadcrumbs, served with potatoes and french bread. Dessert was a gelato made with tea and biscuits, with a caramelised bread sauce and fruit.
What is your long-term vision for the Food for Soul project?
The mayor of Montreal wants us to come, but first let me relax a minute! The Rockefeller Foundation was studying our project and has given us a big grant to open Refettorio’s everywhere in the United States. My passions are art and music, so I would like to open somewhere like New Orleans, which has suffered a lot in the past. The Vatican also say they want one there.
The most important thing is that after we opened the Refettorio in Milan, France and Italy - the country’s with the two most important cuisines in the world - both passed laws to reduce food waste. So I think chefs in 2017 are much more than the sum of their recipes.
Do you think chefs have a responsibility to raise awareness about food waste?
To run a restaurant like mine, with 50 staff and 28 covers for lunch and dinner, you have to be very careful how you work with products and use the excess to create a staff meal that’s going to be amazing. That is the most important meal of the day because we are creating the palate of the next generation of chefs. I think the chefs of the future will have to be very careful about waste and how to act in the kitchen.