The chef of the #1 restaurant in the world is feeding Rio's homeless people for free.

Average cost of a meal at Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana in Italy — recently named the #1 restaurant in the world by World's 50 Best​? $234-$260.

Cooks prepare food at Refettorio Gastromotiva. Photo by Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press.

Average cost of a meal at Bottura's new pop-up restaurant near the Olympic Village in Rio? $0.

Photo by Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press.


The guest list, however, is even more exclusive: You have to be homeless to eat there.

Patrons wait to get into Refettorio Gastromotiva. Photo by Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press.

Bottura and his local partners have loaded the cafe — dubbed Refettorio Gastromotiva — with features absent from most soup kitchens: uniformed waiters, art on the walls, and five-star cuisine.

"This is a cultural project, not a charity," the chef told the Associated Press. "We want to rebuild the dignity of the people."

And the food source? Leftover ingredients from the Olympic Village.

Human beings waste lots of food — much of which is still edible, just simply left over. According to a Natural Resource Defense Council Report, as much as 40% of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten annually, up nearly 50% since the 1970s.

"The project is important since it deals with sustainable food and fighting waste, which is a global scale issue," Tania Braga, head of sustainability and legacy on the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, told Eater in early August.

Bottura has done this once before, and it's kind of become his thing.

Massimo Bottura. Photo by Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press.

At last year's Expo Milano, Bottura salvaged 15 tons of food waste from the event to feed homeless residents, refugees, and other hungry people at a derelict theater, also outfitted to resemble a fancy restaurant.

The goal, he explained, is to draw attention to the issue of food waste, while simultaneously giving the restaurant's needy patrons the ability to dine in an atmosphere that honors their humanity.

The restaurant is slated to continue to operate when the cameras pack up and go home.

Refettorio Gastromotiva will have served 5,000 meals to homeless men and women in Rio by the time the Olympics end.

After the games, Bottura intends to transform the space — which his group has leased for 10 years — into a restaurant that serves a paying crowd for lunch and uses the proceeds to feed the homeless in the evenings.

And it's already a hit with the clientele.

As Valdimir Faria, a Rio resident who dined at Refettorio Gastromotiva during the Olympics, told the Associated Press, it's not just about the food:

"Just sitting here, treated with respect on an equal footing, makes me think I have a chance."

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

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Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

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