Massimo Bottura is coming to America — but not to open a restaurant. Eater reported last year that the chef behind Osteria Francescana, the Modena, Italy restaurant that topped the World’s 50 Best List in 2016, was planning to open one of his food waste-fighting soup kitchens, called Refettorios, in the Bronx with support from New York’s Italian consulate. On a recent episode of the Eater Upsell, Bottura elaborated on those plans and explained to Upsell host Greg Morabito why this country is in particular need of his efforts to eliminate food waste.
With his nonprofit Food for Soul, Bottura has begun a tradition of setting up Refettorios, which take potential food waste and turn it into meals for people who need them, sometimes with help from big-name chefs. Although most Refettorios were initially set up around major events, like Expo Milano and the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the community kitchens have lasted long past those closing ceremonies. “We are not interested in pop-ups. We are interested in seeds,” Bottura says. “They’re going to grow, and they’re going to expand all over the world.”
There’s no major event taking place in the Bronx. Bottura is setting up a soup kitchen in the New York City borough because, he says, there’s a need for it. There’s no opening date just yet, but plans are moving ahead, and in addition to the Italian consulate, Bottura’s team is working with Bronx-based St. Barnabas Hospital to make the community kitchen happen.
Food for Soul’s efforts in America won’t end there, though. This country, Bottura says, is a “megaphone” for the issues around food waste — the U.S. wastes 40 percent of its food supply, according to some estimates — and after the Bronx project is complete, Bottura plans to put Refettorios in other U.S. cities. Recently, Food for Soul received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to open at least two Refettorios in the U.S., likely including the Bronx project, according to the Guardian, and Bottura already has some ideas for where he’d like to go next: “New Orleans and Detroit. To me, in my heart, I think they could be very interesting,” he says. But, he’s open to anywhere that feels right: “If I feel the right energy in a suburb of Chicago, I’m going to go there, and explore, and find a way to open there.”
Hear the complete interview with Massimo Bottura below, as he chats about 22 years at Osteria Francescana, being a chef that people look up to, and his friendship with sushi master Jiro Ono. Subscribe to the Eater Upsell on iTunes, or listen on Soundcloud. You can also get the entire archive of episodes right here on Eater.