Refettorio, Bottura’s poker

After Milan, Rio and London, it’s now the turn of the Madeleine in Paris. Chefs Alleno and Ducasse were the first to cook

21-03-2018

Alain DucasseMassimo Bottura and Yannick Alleno at the press conference for the launch of Refettorio at the Foyer de la Madeleine, on Thursday morning, 15th March, in Paris. Flashes lightened up the tunnels of a church that has been hosting a soup kitchen for a long time now, though only open at lunchtime. The new establishment will guarantee that evening meals are also available

Initially, there was Refettorio Ambrosiano. It was 2015 and everyone said Massimo Bottura was making use of the platform offered by Expo in Milan. One year later, he opened Refettorio Gastromotiva in Rio de Janeiro in the summer. Of course (ironic) making use of the wave offered by the Olympic Games. It’s as if people expected that in order to aim for success, you should choose the worst date possible to miss the goal.

Hands, the main theme in Paris, as seen by JR, the artist who directed the entire artistic setting at the Refettorio in Rio de Janiero

Hands, the main theme in Paris, as seen by JR, the artist who directed the entire artistic setting at the Refettorio in Rio de Janiero

Then when last year it was the turn of Refettorio Felix in London, the usual unsatisfied and criticising characters at last realised that Food for Soul, the foundation that the chef from Modena created with his wife Lara Gilmore to support soup kitchens around the world was something real, and serious. At last.

These hands, depicted endless times by JR, belong to Massimo Bottura

These hands, depicted endless times by JR, belong to Massimo Bottura

And today in Paris it was an incredible day for Refettorio alla Madeleine, a church that will be undergoing renovations for a couple of years still. It’s not beautiful per se, but it was made important by history and by the French ability to make it precious with their work and gestures. What is in fact a community restaurant coexists in the basements of the church with the Foyer de la Madeleine. It’s a soup kitchen that for centuries has been feeding the poor, as well as clerks and any citizen (who pay, though), at lunchtime and only on weekdays. Prices are accessible: with a subscription, you pay 9 euros for a meal (starter, main course plus dessert, and one euro extra if you prefer cheese). If you bring a last minute guest along, you pay 16 euros.

The narrow kitchen in the Parisian Refettorio

The narrow kitchen in the Parisian Refettorio

The Botturas first thought of Paris in September. The meeting with the French minister of agriculture in October in Bergamo, during the agricultural G7, was decisive. Two months later, in January, works started in the basement labyrinth. Extremely fascinating, extremely problematic because you had to cook, work, eat in narrow corridors that luckily are not so low you must kneel. And all this without ever stopping the lunchtime service. Three only exceptions were made last week, the last one compensated by the first evening service at Refettorio, with Yannick Alleno and Alain Ducasse cooking. Yannick in person, Ducasse contributed with his charisma and presence, leaving the handwork to one of his best chefs.

So basically two charity offers coexist. However, as the managers at Foyer de la Madeleine pointed out, «those who came here out of poverty, found an emergency meal, they ate and left with the same [terrible] mood. Now they’re surrounded by lights, art and beauty. They sit in a charity restaurant and enjoy the benefits of this brand new dignified place».

Bottura strongly insisted on the importance of beauty, his own source of inspiration and vital lymph: «I couldn’t sleep last night. I kept waking up, so I started to read until I came across a quote by Albert Camus that said: “Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolutions. But a day will come when revolutions will have need of beauty” and this is what we’re doing here». A revolution towards human solidarity and Earth’s sustainability.

I was incredibly happy to see many French people admiring the project of an Italian chef. For once, thinking of a famous song by Paolo Conte about Gino Bartali when he won the Tour de France, we didn’t see «French getting pissed off». Quite the contrary. Alleno and Ducasse stood beside Bottura on a footboard. Then Yannick said he was proud to welcome the Modenese chef in Paris, and Ducasse concluded: «Only you Massimo have the strength to join us». As well as the multi-starred patron-chefs, there were also François Pinault, who owns the Gucci brand and recently opened Gucci Osteria with Bottura in Florence, and Bernard Arnault, the 7th richest man in the world in 2017 thanks to luxury giant LVMH – he’s worth 55.4 billion dollars, Pinault 14.5.

Massimo Bottura, a moment of relax in Place de la Madeleine in Paris

Massimo Bottura, a moment of relax in Place de la Madeleine in Paris

A final note: the Parisian Refettorio will be open in the evening, from Monday to Friday, from 6.30 to 8 pm. There will be two house chefs handling daily work and at least three guests per week, especially French, thanks to the partnership with Collège culinaire de France, established early this decade by a dozen chefs including Ducasse and Alleno. Fifteen volunteers will offer each service. Guests will be people indicated by dorms or charities and they’ll try to give a job in the kitchen to those in search of one. Sponsors include Carrefour, Phenix and Banque Alimentarie: every day they will provide over 100 kilograms of unsold products, so they don’t go wasted. These are concrete steps.
Translated by Slawka G. Scarso


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