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SOUL FOOD

Soul food

Community kitchen Reffetorio Felix combats food waste and promotes social cohesion, under the patronage of one of the world’s greatest chefs. We spoke to communication and development manager Zoë McIntyre about the incredible power of three square meals a day.

“The gesture of sitting down to a meal and breaking bread together is the first step toward rebuilding dignity and creating community”, says Massimo Bottura, legendary chef at three Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana and founder of nonprofit organisation and Food For Soul, an international chain of community kitchens. The link between one of the world’s best restaurants where tasting menus cost in excess of £300 and feeding the underprivileged might not be obvious, but according to Bottura it is all an act of love.

London’s outpost of Food For Soul – Reffetorio Felix – launched in 2017 at St Cuthbert’s Centre in Earl’s Court. They are in partnership with The Felix Project, an organisation that collects edible, in-date food that cannot be sold in retail and delivers it to charities to repurpose.

Communication and development manager at Reffetorio Felix, Zoë McIntyre, has seen the effects of the project on the local area first-hand. She says: “The power of food and a shared meal to create an atmosphere of community and breaking down barriers between social groups is amazing. We facilitate and enable vulnerable and homeless people to build relationships and foster a sense of self-esteem and respect.”

Manned and served by volunteers, the centre operates an open-door policy, welcoming people from all walks of life, for a three-course lunch five days per week. “From the elderly, to the homeless or rough sleepers, and people with mental health issues, everyone is welcome. Along with the volunteers, this balances the energy and creates a dynamic environment for learning and sharing.”

Supporting the lunch offering is a range of additional activities and services such as yoga classes, therapeutic and creative sessions, nutrition classes and on-site mental health professionals available for one-to-one support and referrals. There are even showers and hygiene facilities to “allow people to freshen up, put on a clean shirt and enjoy a served meal,” explains Zoë. “This is really important for confidence and dignity, both crucial to helping get lives back on track.”

What’s on the menu? The centre has to stay reactive to food donations and as such does not necessarily have a cooking style, focusing on making its food as wholesome and nutritious as possible, with clever techniques to turn waste into gold.

“We don’t have recipes and creativity and innovation is key to what we serve,” says Zoë. “It’s the spontaneous element to the kitchen! One week we could receive a surplus of bread and put it to use thickening soups, baking croutons, making bread and butter pudding or even bread ice cream. We’ve had a big lentil donation recently and are serving that in stews and pies. We don’t often get a huge amount of meat so another challenge is to change mentalities about food groups.”

Famously obsessed with art and design, hospitality in all its guises is exactly what Massimo Bottura aims to deliver. To this end, not only has Food For Soul funded a beautiful redecoration of the space to ensure it is welcoming and uplifting, Massimo also invites VIP guest chefs to cook for the community, many of whom are his friends.

“He cooked for the launch himself,” says Zoë, “and since then we have welcomed the likes of Monica Galetti, Michel Roux Jnr and Alain Ducasse, all really big names. Once every two weeks we have guest chefs come in and volunteer.”

With this kind of pedigree behind the stove, Reffetorio Felix is probably one of London’s best-kept restaurant secrets. Even with stellar connections there’s no chance of booking a table, however as Zoë confirms, “we’re always looking for volunteers – and we get to enjoy the food together too!”

At Marble LDN, we are constantly looking for ways to give back to the local community and volunteered front of house across three lunchtimes at Reffetorio Felix. A rewarding and fascinating project with an eclectic group of people from various walks of life, each with an interesting story to tell, we can’t recommend it enough. To volunteer visit:

refettoriofelix.com

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