“I’m a regular”
Rio restaurant for homeless people:
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/