On a family trip to Paris this summer, my husband and I got an amazing opportunity to volunteer. Our friend JR and his wife Prune Who are incredible artists!!! (Make sure to check them out) They run an incredible restaurant called Refettorio … It’s a five star restaurant, where Michelin Star chefs, locals or not, volunteer, and serves meals to REFUGEES AND THE HOMELESS!!
I have never seen anything done at this level: The restaurant is located below the church of La Madeleine, in the crypt and is an absolutely beautiful space. From the moment guests arrive, someone checks their coat, they get 5 star restaurant treatment and guests are treated with dignity. The dishes are beautiful, and the whole space looks like something out of a movie (it is in the crypt of a Parisian church after all).
JR showed us all around Refettorio — He showed us where guests dine, and their pantry of food. Refettorio’s menu is always changing because they cook with whatever food they can get. They take food that is deemed “not good enough”, like fruits, vegetables, etc … Food that because it doesn’t “look perfect” would be thrown away, but it is perfectly good to eat! Think bananas with bruises … Food that can easily and safely still be used and consumed … Food that should NOT go to waste.
The chefs are tasked with creating a 5 star menu based on the raw materials that they have. My husband and I got the lay of the land, saw how Refettorio worked, and then put on our aprons and got to work. We spent our evening serving these amazing 5 star meals to people who were truly deserving of a dignified and respectful experience.
The idea of Refettorio Paris was conceived by Food for Soul, a non-profit organization founded by chef Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore to empower communities to fight against food waste through social inclusion. Their project launched in Milan in 2015, and then also expanded to Brazil, London, Modena and Bologna. Each of their projects is unique and shaped on the needs of the local community, but they all share a common approach based on quality of ideas, power of beauty and value of hospitality.
I can’t say enough good things about the experience of volunteering at Refettorio. If you are ever in Paris, you must go check them out and take some time to volunteer! They need people to help with their daily dinner service from Monday to Friday, setting up, serving food, clearing plates and tidying the space as well as those with cooking experience to help in the kitchen.
Now can we all brainstorm how we can get something like this started in our country?!!