Massimo Bottura's Refettorios In Harlem And San Francisco Have Come To Life

Meal delivery, nonprofit partnerships, and live websites show they're up and running, if not officially launched

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The first two U.S.-based Refettorio projects — the no-waste soup kitchens and cultural centers from Massimo Bottura and his partner, Lara Gilmore – are showing signs of life. With help from New York's Italian consulate, Refettorio Harlem will open at Emanuel AME Church (37 W. 119th St., Manhattan). While the actual spaces aren't open to the public yet, the Manhattan location and the one in San Francisco (149 Fell St.) have launched with meal delivery in partnership with local nonprofits.

Refettorio Harlem is gearing up to open officially in the fall, a source says. Timing for the San Francisco location has not been revealed, but Italy-centric mag, La Cucina Italiana reported that both facilities will open in 2021. Bottura, the Michelin-starred chef of Osteria Francescana; a luminary featured on Netflix 'Chef's Table'; author of Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef and Bread Is Gold, opened his first U.S. restaurant, Gucci Osteria in Beverly Hills last year. His first U.S.-based refettorio was originally on track to open in the Bronx and has been in the works since at least 2016. Bottura's nonprofit, Food for Soul, pivoted to Harlem in late 2019, according to a source.

According to the website, both U.S. locations have been delivering meals since the holidays, with New York's Hot Bread Kitchen funding 600 meals a week (and serving as the satellite location for Refettorio Harlem).

The most recent Instagram post showing food delivery was March 25. 

The Hot Bread Kitchen Chefs Collective working with Refettorio Harlem is comprised of women who make "a diverse variety of food: vegetable-forward Jamaican food, Boricua Geechee cuisine, Mediterranean soul food, and southern classics," according to the website. They include Maryam Boddie, Sadra Mathis, Lexis Gonzalez, and Cornel Robinson. You can learn more about its fundraising initiatives here.

And in keeping with Bottura's no-waste priority, the refettorio projects "actively reduce food waste from the supply chain working in tandem with local and regional farms, suppliers and distributors mission-aligned to ensure no food is left behind."

Despite Covid, the refettorio projects "have continued to operate and care for those most socially vulnerable," according to the website. The idea for the refettorio was showcased at the Milan World Expo 2015: Every day, guests were served a three-course menu prepared using the leftover ingredients from the Expo's pavilions that would have otherwise been thrown away.

In Bread Is Gold, Bottura says he came up with the idea in a conversation with design guru and artistic director, Davide Rampello before the Expo. "At the end of the week, Davide called me and said, 'Carirtas Ambrosiana, the biggest Catholic charity organization in Milan, is interested in your refettorio.'"

The Milan location was followed by Mérida, Mexico; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; London, England; Paris, France; and in Italy: Modena, Bologna, and Naples.

The U.S. locations are emphasizing "compassion, hospitality, and beauty" over "the number of meals served or how many pounds of food are recovered," according to the Food for Soul website. And so far, the Harlem location has partnered with a handful of nonprofits so far:

Food for Soul's operational partner, Youth Action YouthBuild, along with 400 Foundation, will coordinate meals for delivery several days a week to offer a gesture of hospitality to those most socially vulnerable across Harlem neighborhoods. A few of our service partners include African Services, No Women Left Behind, Food Faith Ministries, and East Harlem YAYB buildings and neighborhood shelters. We will continue to expand our service network over the coming weeks to expand our gesture of hospitality throughout the season into the New Year. Community meals will not only provide nourishment for those most socially vulnerable, but it will also sustain culinary job training and apprenticeships for at-risk youth and secure workforce opportunities for those greatly affected in the food and hospitality sector.

The primary operational partner for New York is run by Robert Taylor: Youth Action YouthBuild, a 40-year-old nonprofit, helps young people "with job skills training, job placement services, high school equivalency certification, civic service engagement, and a safe environment where students are encouraged to become leaders in their communities." Eventually, the YAYB Good Food Jobs Program will be based in Refettorio Harlem and "participants will undertake training in both the back and front of house operations, learn culinary skills and gain experience in the kitchen," according to the website.

In San Francisco, the operating partner is Farming Hope, a "garden-to-table job training non-profit organization" that helps with job apprenticeships and "experiential learning in urban gardens and foodservice kitchens."