It’s a dining experience that would be a luxury for Rio de Janeiro’s middle class, but at the Refettorio Gastromotiva restaurant, Michelin-starred chefs feed the poor and the homeless.
Ahead of last year’s Olympic Games, Brazil’s David Hertz helped found this nonprofit ‘social gastrononmy’ project to tackle food waste and help those on the margins.
“Sometimes it’s old people that have been abandoned by their families, or orphans, or transsexuals there are in need of money and we have a shelter rig next to the Refettorio. So it’s not really just people from the street. It’s just whoever needs to be fed and not just fed food, but fed care also and respect, be treated with respect,” says Alex Forbes, the project’s co-founder.
Refettorio Gastromotiva is no drab soup kitchen – rather a stylish venue that doubles up as a school for budding chefs. They use food products that would otherwise be thrown away.
The homeless patrons say they find the meals invigorating.
“I have never been treated so well. I feel very proud of the people who are here to care for us and make us believe again,” said Jorge Luis da Silva.
Chefs from around the world take up temporary residence at the restaurant, located in Rio’s Lapa neighbourhood. They include David Hertz of Brazil, Massimo Bottura of Italy and Gaggan Anand of India.
One recent visitor was Gaggan Anand, who owns the progressive Indian restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok.
“Cooking is cooking, when you put salt, do you ask, ‘Do I put salt for homeless or do I put salt for the rich people?’ You just put salt. There’s no difference. You have to put love and affection into what you do. That is for homeless or for everyone cooking is a how I categorise cooking for homeless and cooking for rich. There’s no category,” he said.
There are a lot of potential diners to cater to.
Some 14,000 people live on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, a city of about 6.5 million, according to municipal data. And at least a quarter of the city live in “favelas,” or shantytowns.