“I’m a re­gu­lar”

Rio res­tau­rant for ho­me­less pe­o­p­le:

Times of Suriname - - ENGELS -

BRAZIL - In a chic, mi­ni­ma­list res­tau­rant with an Ita­li­an na­me and an in­no­va­ti­ve me­nu, near the cen­tre of Rio de Jan­ei­ro, Val­di­cir dos San­tos tucks in­to his din­ner. It con­sists of ba­na­na skin and ve­ge­ta­bles ser­ved with tan­ge­ri­ne sau­ce, beans, ri­ce and far­in­ha ­ the flour, ground from dried bread in­stead of the usu­al ma­ni­oc, that Bra­zi­lians sprink­le on eve­ry­thing.

The food at Re­fet­to­rio Gastro­mo­ti­va is ex­cel­lent – and Dos San­tos is one of 90 pe­o­p­le ea­ting the­re for free. “I’m a re­gu­lar,” says Dos San­tos, a ho­me­less man, who has a sa­lad to start and ba­na­na ice cream, straw­ber­ries and gra­no­la for des­sert. “It’s a re­al find, be­cau­se the food is well se­lec­ted.”

Re­fet­to­rio Gastro­mo­ti­va, which ope­ned in Au­gust 2016, just be­fo­re the Olym­pic Games, is a uni­que pro­ject in a ci­ty bligh­ted by po­ver­ty and ri­sing ho­me­les­s­ness. Tho­se who eat he­re – aban­do­ned by a coun­try whe­re ine­qua­li­ty runs deep and the eco­no­my is still craw­ling out of a crip­pling re­ces­si­on – say its meals of­fer a ra­re mo­ment of hu­ma­ni­ty.

The res­tau­rant’s food is do­na­ted by com­pa­nies that would other­wi­se throw it away, and pre­pa­red by a team of trai­nees led by professional chefs. They are adept at turning what would other­wi­se be was­te in­to ap­pe­ti­sing me­nus. The di­ners, who are ser­ved the food by vo­lun­teers, are se­lec­ted by dif­fe­rent non­pro­fit groups. Dos San­tos was in­vi­ted by a cha­ri­ty wor­king with the ho­me­less; other di­ners are im­mi­grants from the De­mo­cra­tic Re­pu­blic of the Con­go. Most of the team coo­king at the res­tau­rant are from fa­vel­as and low-in­co­me com­mu­ni­ties. All ne­go­ti­a­ted a tough se­lec­ti­on pro­cess to claim a pla­ce on a three-month trai­ning cour­se lea­ding to a di­plo­ma. “When you don’t ha­ve a di­plo­ma or spe­ci­a­li­sa­ti­on, you can’t mo­ve for­ward in li­fe,” says Léa Da­mião, 38, a trai­nee and mo­ther of three from Rio’s Vigário Geral fa­ve­la, as she helps to pre­pa­re to­nights me­al. She wor­ked as a ma­ni­cu­rist for 16 ye­ars, but al­ways lo­ved coo­king. I want to be a chef one day, she says. Da­mião fell in lo­ve with the work at Gastro­mo­ti­va, which pays her tra­vel and al­so co­vers her meals at work. She has sin­ce fi­nis­hed the trai­ning, but co­mes back eve­ry week to vo­lun­teer. The cour­se was to­tal­ly free and I think I owe so­me­thing, she says. Gastro­mo­ti­va’s co-foun­der, Bra­zi­li­an chef Da­vid Hertz, 44, says the con­cept, cal­l­ed so­ci­al gas­tro­no­my, is gro­wing world­wi­de. He tra­vels in­ces­sant­ly, loo­king at new ini­ti­a­ti­ves. For us, figh­ting food was­te is a way of ge­ne­ra­ting meals for pe­o­p­le who need them, pe­o­p­le in need, he says. Gas­tro­no­my for us is the means, not the end. It is a means for so­ci­al in­clu­si­on. (Glo­bal De­vel­op­ment/

The Gu­ar­di­an)

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