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Massimo Bottura’s community dinner is fighting hunger in Refettorio Mérida

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Verónica Garibay Saldaña is a Mexican columnist, communications major, and poetry enthusiast. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Oct. 16 is world food day, and all over the globe associations like Refettorio are supporting the fight against world hunger.

The star project of Food for Soul, Massimo Botura’s foundation, Refettorio was founded in 2015 and now holds 13 community dinners around the world, in countries like Italy, Perú, the U.S., and Australia. 

Refettorio opened its doors in late 2020 and has been welcoming guests in vulnerable conditions for three-course meals. Photo: Courtesy of Referttorio

Refettorio is a cultural project designed to offer dining experiences through the transformation of surplus ingredients into nutritious and beautiful dishes.

In 2020, Food for Soul partnered with the Palace Foundation, a Mexican association that activates social projects in the regions in which they operate. Under the wing of Odette Solis, project coordinator in the state, they opened Refettorio’s first branch in North America — in Mérida, Yucatán.

The dishes are prepared with surplus ingredients and products recovered from food banks. Photo: Courtesy of Referttorio

Located on Calle 60, Refettorio Mérida seeks to fight food waste and provide aid to people in vulnerable situations living in the capital of the state.

As told by Claudia Bolio, general coordinator, their community kitchens are moved by the desire of dignifying people through complete gastronomic experiences as well as raising awareness about food waste.

Mérida’s Refettorio is in an old colonial home in Calle 60 which can serve up to 30 guests. Photo: Courtesy of Refettorio

“Most of the ingredients we use are recovered from food banks,” says Claudia. “Some are donations from restaurants, and some we find in their last moment of consumption. A lot of the food we use does not meet the standards for export or sale, which means that these perfectly consumable products would be thrown away. We have learned to rescue them, and create wonders with them.”

Adhering to COVID occupancy restrictions, 30 guests are welcomed in from Monday to Friday to enjoy Refettorio’s dining experience.

Guests are welcomed into the dinner by volunteers. Photo: Courtesy of Referttorio

“We start welcoming people after 12:45 every day,” says Claudia. “The menu consists of three courses — entree, main course, and dessert, and it depends entirely on the ingredients we receive. We want to present dishes that are not only healthy and nutritious but also beautiful. Everyone deserves to enjoy a delicious meal.”

Chef Massimo Botura is the head of Food for Soul, the foundation from which Refettorio was born. They intend to prepare healthy, nutritious food similar to what is served in the restaurants of the chef. Photo: Refettorio

Additionally to the dining experience, Refettorio Mérida offers a hygiene section.

“We work mostly with people experiencing homelessness, and many do not have access to basic services such as safe, clean water. The hygiene area is open from 12 every day, and we’re happy to provide extra services from time to time, like haircuts and clothes donations.”

Chef Roberto Ricalde leads the kitchen. He works closely with two assistants and an operations coordinator. The rest of the tasks are carried out through the help of volunteers. Odette Solis says there’s an average of eight people helping in each service, which ensures the guests get to enjoy their meal as they would in any restaurant.

Chef Roberto Ricalde is in charge of the Refettorio kitchen. Although volunteers mostly work in the service area, from time to time there’s a possibility to work back in the kitchen. Photo: Refettorio

“They help to welcome the guests, set up the tables, and serve,” says Odette. “We’re very thankful for the great response we’ve had with volunteers, and we try to be very respectful of their time. We have an open schedule for anyone interested in participating, and we program their help depending on what we’ll need.”

As of October 2021, Refettorio Mérida has served over 50,000 plates and recovered over 23,000 kilos of food waste. They hope to double those numbers as time goes on and to increase the volunteer hours they have accumulated, which come out at around 4,800.

Additional to food banks, they often work with restaurants and providers in order to rescue high-quality ingredients. Photo: Refettorio

“This project is proof of the love and creativity available in our communities,” says Claudia. “It is certainly something the city needed, and we hope these efforts continue growing throughout the state and the country. Food is a human right everyone deserves to enjoy.”

Join the volunteer’s agenda by contacting Claudia Bolio at 998-131-8032.
Follow the Mérida Refettorio on Instagram.

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