Everyone has a few subjects they love reading about and will devour every single book that comes out about that subject. One of those subjects for me is food waste, and so when I heard about Bread is Gold by Massimo Bottura, the Italian chef and restaurateur behind Osteria Francescana, I slapped it on my TBR list.
The book wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Bottura (who was featured in the documentary Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, which I saw last year and highly recommend) tells the story of how his nonprofit organization Food for Soul, along with David Hertz’s Gastromotiva, opened the Refettorio Gastromotiva, a community kitchen that combined feeding the local needy population (along with others who weren’t needy) and combatting food waste. Another Refettorio was later opened in Milan, and then one in London.
How the Refettorio works is this: a well-known chef, often one that runs a Michelin-starred restaurant, is invited to come cook for a day or two, using only the ingredients on hand and anything specialized they bring with from their home country. And as the Refettorio receives shipments of about-to-expire food from different sources every day, the pantry contents can vary widely. If you’ve ever seen the show Chopped! on the Food Network, it’s like that. Chefs have to work with shipments of fish and dairy that need to be used that day; ridiculous quantities of brown bananas and wilting produce; tropical fruit and other luxury items that supermarkets couldn’t sell; varying amounts of meat, from an overabundance to none at all; and 4372899473284732984832 tons of stale bread. What comes out of the Refettorio is miraculous, meals that are fit for any upscale restaurant, made strictly out of ingredients that had been destined for the trashbin.
Each text-filled page is a story of a chef who came to cook at the Refettorio, their life story, what they cooked during their time there, and the challenges they faced (sometimes the daily shipment was less than abundant). If you enjoy food writing, you’ll probably enjoy their stories. The photographs that follow each text section are lovely, showcasing the ingredients they received and the stunning culinary masterpieces they became, and each section contains recipes for everything the chefs prepared.
This book is part story, part cookbook, and part inspiration. Food waste is an enormous social, political, and ecological issue, and anything that can challenge people to think creatively about the food in their refrigerators and pantries is a good thing, I think. For me, this book serves mostly as inspiration, as I’m usually pretty careful with our food and we waste almost nothing. I do, however, need the occasional kick in the pants to get me thinking in creative ways about how to use what we have. I’m becoming a little more comfortable cooking without a recipe these days (although I’m nowhere near the level of the chefs featured in this book!), and I’ve got plans for a few different meals thanks to reading about the ingenuity that takes place on a daily basis at the Refettorio. (I did, however, write down the recipe for Stale Bread Gnocchi. The vast majority of my bread ends go in the freezer, where I wait until I have enough, and then I toss them in the oven until they’re crunchy and pulverize them in the food processor to make bread crumbs. I’m pretty backed up on bread ends right now, though, and I have an excess of bread crumbs, so this recipe looks like just what I need!)
While there are better books out there for tackling the immediate issue of food waste (and I have plans for a future post about those books!), this is a good book to keep around as a reminder of the importance of using what you have before it goes bad, and an excellent example of the people who are working every day on a massive scale to do just that.
Do you have an interest in food waste? What are the subjects that make you immediately drop whatever it is you were reading before and pick up the new book that covers that topic?