At the end of August, Norberto Cáceres, our Community Chef, went to Rio de Janeiro to be part of Refettorio Gastromotiva – an initiative brought to Brazil to contribute to fighting food waste, malnutrition and social exclusion. Here is Norberto‘s story.
I’ve known Chef Joshna Maharaj for almost ten years. It all started when I heard about the amazing changes she was bringing to the not for profit sector by serving healthy, nutritious, delicious, sustainable food to drop in meal programs. And so I started volunteering at The Stop Community Food Centre where she ran an impeccable kitchen that serves great food in a dignified way to anyone who walks in the door. Later on in our careers, Joshna hired me as her Sous Chef for a fresh market eatery called Food Studio at the Royal Ontario Museum and our relationship became one of friendship and mutual respect as well as, for myself, of mentorship. I am constantly learning from her vision of food security and the role that Chefs need to play in the process of transforming our food systems into one that is fair and focuses on environmental impact, social justice as well as our health.
When Joshna approached me to invite me to act as her Sous Chef once again, this time to participate in Refettorio Gastromotiva, I had no doubts this was going to be an amazing experience, and for a fantastic cause. Refettorio Gastromotiva is an initiative brought to Brazil by chefs Massimo Bottura (Food for Soul), David Hertz (Gastromotiva) and by the journalist Ale Forbes to contribute to fighting food waste, malnutrition and social exclusion. Refettorio (in latin Reficere) means to recuperate and restore. At the Refettorio Gastromotiva recuperating food is just as important as promoting and restoring the dignity of people.
And so we went down to Rio de Janeiro and worked together once again. We cooked with an amazing Kitchen Team composed of graduates of Gastromotiva (a social gastronomy school, forming Chefs who are not only culinary skilled but socially and environmentally aware and invested). Our task was to create a dinner menu with rescued and donated food, whatever available, that would make a healthy and nutritious dinner for 150 people attending from local community organizations.
As our Community here at the CRC Regent Park Community Food Centre has already learned, I love cooking Indian food, and with Joshna’s heritage, we decided for an Indian themed menu that would use a variety of local ingredients. We made manioc flour and cabbage pakoras, mango and passion fruit chutney and a coconut cream raita as an appetizer. Our main course was a family style chicken curry, saffron rice, black bean “chana” masala, cabbage salad with black mustard seed and grilled palm hearts garnished with chaat masala chicken skin chicharron. And to top it up, caramelized banana on a short crust with a drizzle of our Canadian influence Maple Syrup and saffron coconut kulfi. You can see the photos here.
Refettorio Gastromotiva follows a similar business model to Bottura’s first project, Refettorio Ambrosiano, which launched last year. Ambrosiano provides paid lunches to the public in order to provide free evening meals to local homeless shelters, using donated food from Milan agricultural market and a network of supermarkets, restaurants and schools. So far it has saved 30 tonnes of food and provided 23,000 meals.
Post-Olympics, Refettorio Gastromotiva will do the same. Opening once a week initially, it will use donated waste food from a supermarket chain, fruit and vegetable wholesaler and local organic farmer to cook paid-for lunches, allowing it to provide 70 free evening meals for vulnerable Lapa residents. The kitchen will be staffed by graduates from the social enterprise Gastromotiva’s chef training scheme, who come from some of Rio’s most underprivileged communities.
Our guests, as they’re called at Gastromotiva, loved to experience the flavours, textures and aromas Joshna and I were able to bring to their plates that night. And we were delighted to meet these folks and hear their stories, that at the end of the day, are the same stories I hear at our community meal program here in Regent Park and these stories are what fuels my engine and reinforces the beliefs of what my social responsibilities are as a Chef.
Everyone at Refetto Gastromotiva was so welcoming and generous to us, we felt part of a vibrant community that is growing. Most of all, I feel very privileged and honoured to be the Community Chef at Regent Park CFC, I get to do this meaningful work everyday.
Thank you Chef Joshna Maharaj for believing in me and bringing me along as your right hand.
Thank you Chef David Hertz from Gastromotiva for this amazing opportunity and your immense generosity, your hunger for change and Social Gastronomy.
Thank you CRC Regent Park Community Food Centre and our Regent Park community for lending me for a week to Refettorio.